Ship Registration: Law and Practice

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13.1 Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory and the Crown is represented by the Governor and Commander in Chief. It has a population of some 29,500. As a British Overseas Territory, Gibraltar has been part of the European Union since Britain joined in 1973, although membership is subject to a number of important derogations, the most notable of which is that Gibraltar is excluded from the Common Agricultural Policy and the European VAT regime. It seems likely that Gibraltar will leave the EU simultaneously with Britain. Until then, ships registered in Gibraltar are entitled to EU cabotage privileges. While Britain retains responsibility for defence and foreign affairs, domestic affairs are regulated by the Gibraltar Parliament. Geographically, Gibraltar is a promontory 5 km long and situated close to the western entrance to the Mediterranean with Spain to the north and Morocco to the south across the Straits of Gibraltar. English remains the official language although Spanish is widely spoken. The official unit of currency is the Gibraltar pound (GB£) at par with the pound sterling though English, most other UK currency and the Euro is generally accepted. 13.2 Vessels registered in Gibraltar are British ships, but are subject to the control of the Gibraltar Maritime Administration (GMA). The GMA was established in its present form in 1997 and has grown considerably in registered tonnage in that time. With an enduring maritime heritage and a Category 1 member of the Red Ensign Group, the group of British registries collectively promoting their quality brand and reputation, Gibraltar appears among the top 25 in the list of best-performing flag States in the 2017 Paris MOU White List.1 Vessels registered in Gibraltar fly the Red Ensign defaced with the Gibraltar arms, the Castle and Key.

Sources of law

13.3 The registration of vessels in Gibraltar is governed by the Gibraltar Merchant Shipping (Registration) Act 1995, as amended, and is originally based on the merchant shipping legislation of the UK. Registration is performed by a government official known as the Maritime Administrator. In this chapter, references to ‘the Act’ are references to the Gibraltar Merchant Shipping (Registration) Act 1995 and references to ‘a section’ or to ‘a schedule’ are to a section or schedule of this Act. Safety and crewing requirements on

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board Gibraltar ships are set out in the Gibraltar Merchant Shipping (Manning, Training and Certification for Seafarers) Regulations 2006, as amended.

Vessel eligibility

Vessel type

13.4 With the exception of fishing vessels and nuclear-powered craft, the Registry accepts all types of vessels provided they are classed by a recognised classification society. The Registry operates a separate register for yachts and pleasure craft.2

Age limits

13.5 Ships of 20 years or more from the date of construction are subject to a pre-registration survey and are only registrable at the discretion of the Maritime Administrator.


13.6 The following categories of persons are qualified under section 7(3)(a) and (b) of the Act to be the owners of ships registered in Gibraltar:
  • (1) British citizens;
  • (2) British Dependent Territory citizens;
  • (3) British Overseas citizens;
  • (4) persons who under the British Nationality Act 1981 (an Act of the UK Parliament) are British subjects;
  • (5) persons who under the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986 are British Nationals (Overseas);
  • (6) citizens of the Republic of Ireland and such other relevant countries as may be prescribed, which includes the Channel Islands and colonies of the UK;
  • (7) nationals of any Member State of the European Union or other State which is a party to the European Economic Area Agreement and thereby enjoys the right of establishment in Gibraltar;
  • (8) bodies corporate incorporated under the laws of Gibraltar or under the laws of a Member State of the European Union or a country which is a party to the European Economic Area Agreement and has a place of business, or a representative person within Gibraltar;
  • (9) a foreign maritime entity.3

The application for registration of a ship should be made in the prescribed form in writing from the entity to make the application or on its behalf and should be accompanied

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by the certificate of incorporation and a certificate of good standing of the entity, together with the address of the principal place of business and the name and address of a representative person within Gibraltar.

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