Ship Registration: Law and Practice

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18.1 Situated in the centre of the Mediterranean some 58 miles to the south of Sicily, Malta is made up of a number of islands, namely Gozo and Comino as well as Malta itself, on which the capital Valletta is located. Malta gained its independence from Britain in 1964, became a republic ten years later and is a member of the Commonwealth. Malta joined the European Union in 2004 and has a population of some 415,000. Malta is a parliamentary democracy with members of the House of Representatives elected for a five-year term by proportional representation. The official languages are Maltese and English. The official unit of currency is the Euro. 18.2 Malta has a long maritime tradition and, since independence, the Maltese Register has established itself as a major open and international ship register. The register is administered by the Merchant Shipping Directorate, a department of the Authority for Transport in Malta. Malta appears within the top 25 best-performing flag States in the 2017 Paris MOU White List and as at 1 January 2017 was the sixth largest registry, with over 5% of the world merchant fleet under its flag.1

Sources of law

18.3 The registration of vessels under the Maltese flag is governed by the Merchant Shipping Act 1973 (as amended), a statute based originally on the merchant shipping legislation of the UK. In this chapter, references to ‘the Act’ are references to the Merchant Shipping Act, 1973 as subsequently amended, and references to an ‘article’ are to an article of the Act.

Vessel eligibility

Vessel type

18.4 Any vessel over six metres in length and used in navigation (including pleasure yachts and oil rigs) is eligible for registration.

Age limits

18.5 Merchant ships of 15 years and over are subject to the outcome of a priori registration inspection by an authorised flag State inspector. Ships of ten0 years and over

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but less than 15 years shall also be presented for an inspection, by an authorised flag State inspector, within one month of provisional registration. As a rule, trading ships of 25 years and over may not be registered.

Bareboat charter registration

18.6 Part IIA of the Act, inserted by the Merchant Shipping (Amendment) Act 1990, provides for both bareboat charter registration of foreign ships on to the Malta flag and also for the bareboat charter registration of Maltese ships on to a foreign flag, provided that in either case the provisions of the law of the State of the foreign registry are compatible with the provisions of the Act.

Bareboat chartering in

18.7 The duration of the bareboat charter registration of a foreign vessel under the Malta flag is determined by the duration of the bareboat charter or until the expiry date of the underlying registration, whichever is the shorter, but in no case for a period exceeding two years (art. 84G). The period of registration may be extended and further extended at the request of the charterer or his authorised representative (art. 84H). The requirements for the bareboat registration of a foreign vessel on the Maltese flag are set out in article 84C and permits bareboat registration if:
  • (1) the ship is bareboat chartered to Maltese citizens, bodies corporate or other persons qualified to own a Maltese ship in accordance with article 4;
  • (2) the ship is not a Maltese ship, and she is registered in a compatible registry;
  • (3) the ship is not registered in another bareboat registry; and
  • (4) provided the following documents are submitted to the Registrar:
    • (a) application for registration;
    • (b) a declaration of bareboat charter made by the charterer accompanied by a copy of the charter agreement (such charter agreement will not be available for public inspection);
    • (c) a transcript or an extract of the underlying registration of the vessel which must include a description of the vessel, her owners and, where applicable, details of all registered mortgages and encumbrances on the vessel (which document is available for public inspection); and
    • (d) the consent in writing for the ship to be bareboat charter registered in Malta of:
      • (i) the underlying registry, who may be further required by the Registrar to declare that during the period of bareboat charter registration the ship will not be entitled to fly their flag;
      • (ii) the owners of the ship;
      • (iii) all registered mortgagees;
    • (e) evidence of seaworthiness of the vessel (in the case of a trading vessel, confirmation of class);
    • (f) tonnage certificate; and
    • (g) evidence of payment of all registration fees.

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For the period that the ship is registered under the Maltese flag she will be required to comply with the international Conventions to which Malta is a party. If additional certificates are required, these will usually be issued by the Maltese Registry, although the Registrar may accept certificates issued by the underlying registry (art. 84-I). During the period of the bareboat registration in Malta, the vessel may only hoist the Maltese flag and her home port must be shown as Valletta. Mortgages and encumbrances may not be registered on the Maltese Register (art. 84M).

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