Ship Registration: Law and Practice

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Hong Kong

Hong Kong

14.1 Hong Kong is arguably the financial and commercial centre of south-east Asia. A British colony from 1841, it returned to Chinese rule on 1 July 1997 and is now known as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). Geographically, Hong Kong is located to the south-east of mainland China and consists of a large number of islands and a peninsula which are now largely interconnected through a number of sophisticated underground road links and bridges. The main areas are Hong Kong Island itself, Kowloon and New Territories. They total some 412 square miles. With a population of some 7.3 million it is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and maintains one of the world’s busiest container ports. English and Chinese remain the official languages of the HKSAR. The currency is the Hong Kong dollar (HK$), and it is linked to US$ at the rate of HK$7.80 to US$1. 14.2 Under the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, the Basic Law of the HKSAR, based on the common law system, is in force until at least 2047. Articles 124–127 of the Basic Law provide the constitutional rights and legal basis for the HKSAR to continue to maintain an autonomous shipping register. The port of registry of every registered ship is Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Shipping Register was established in 1990 and is centralised, administered by the Government of HKSAR through the offices of the Marine Department. By January 2017 it was the fourth largest registry in the world by dead-weight tonnage with over 9% of the global merchant fleet.1 Hong Kong appears in the top ten best-performing flag States in the Paris MOU and Tokyo MOU White Lists of Port State Control regulatory compliance.2

Sources of law

14.3 The registration of ships in Hong Kong is governed by the Merchant Shipping (Registration) Ordinance (Cap. 415, ‘the Ordinance’) and supplementary legislation in the form of the Merchant Shipping (Registration) (Tonnage) Regulations, Merchant Shipping (Registration) (Fees and Charges) Regulations and the Merchant Shipping (Registration) (Ship’s Names) Regulations, hereafter collectively referred to as the ‘Regulations’.

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Vessel eligibility

Vessel type

14.4 A ship is a defined as a vessel capable of navigating in water not propelled by oars, including air-cushion vehicle. Any vessel may be registered under the Hong Kong flag, except for the following:
  • (1) non-self-propelled barges carrying petroleum products or dangerous goods;
  • (2) accommodation barges;
  • (3) fishing vessels;
  • (4) ships engaged in processing living resources of the sea, including whale or fish factory ships;
  • (5) specialised ships engaged in research, expeditions or survey work;
  • (6) non-Convention ships serving exclusively within the domestic waters of a country (other than Hong Kong or Chinese Mainland waters) and not proceeding to sea;
  • (7) nuclear-propelled vessels; and
  • (8) mobile offshore drilling units.

The Ordinance allows that the Director of Marine may by notice published in the Gazette provide that a thing designed or adapted for use at sea and described in the notice is or is not to be treated as a ship for the purpose of any provision of the Ordinance as specified in the notice, and any such notice may make different provision in relation to different occasions.3

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