Ship Registration: Law and Practice

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Marshall Islands

Marshall Islands

19.1 The Republic of the Marshall Islands consists of two parallel chains of islands and atolls, roughly 800 miles long, between Hawaii and Guam in the central Pacific Ocean, with a total population of some 74,000. A former UN Trust Territory that was administered by the USA until 1986, the country is now an independent democracy with a constitution based on British and US concepts. The legislature consists of the Council of Iroij of 12 members and the Nitijela, the law-making chamber which has 33 members. The head of State is the President who is elected every four years by the Nitijela. The legal tender is the US dollar (US$). 19.2 The registry model adopted by the Marshall Islands government is outsourced and decentralised. International Registries Inc. and its affiliates, which provides administrative and technical support to the Republic of the Marshall Islands Maritime and Corporate registries is headquartered in Virginia, USA and maintains a global network of 28 worldwide offices and local representatives. The evident success of the Marshall Islands as a leading flag State suggests that such an operating model brings advantages – by 2017 the Marshall Islands had become the third largest register in the world by dead-weight tonnage with over 11% of the global merchant fleet sailing under its flag.1 In a challenging market environment, the pace of growth of this flag State is also remarkable. Between 2016 and 2017 the registered tonnage increased by over 12%; between 2015 and 2016 by some 9%; and between 2014 and 2015 by over 11%. In June 2017, it was reported that the Marshall Islands had overtaken Liberia as the second-largest register in the world, measured by gross tonnage and by dead-weight tonnage. As of 31 January 2018, the Marshall Islands-registered fleet stood at 4,327 vessels and over 158 million gross tons. The Marshall Islands appears within the top ten best-performing flag States in both the 2017 Paris MOU and Tokyo MOU White Lists and is listed as a quality flag administration by the US Coast Guard, appearing for 13 consecutive years on the US Qualship 21 list.2 Since June 2017, the Marshall Islands has issued certain documents and certificates in electronic format, which can be verified online using their quick response code and unique tracking number.3

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Sources of law

19.3 Registration of ships in the Marshall Islands is governed by the Republic of the Marshall Islands Maritime Act 1990, as amended (‘the Act’). Section 103 of the Act provides for the appointment of the Republic of the Marshall Islands Maritime Administrator to administer all matters relating to vessels of the Republic engaged in foreign trade, including the promulgation of rules and regulations. The Maritime Administrator has promulgated the Republic of the Marshall Islands Maritime Regulations (‘the Regulations’) to expand upon the requirements of the Act. Unless otherwise stated, references in this chapter to sections and regulations are references to sections and regulations in the Act and the Regulations, respectively.

Vessel eligibility

Vessel type

19.4 Subject to the age limits mentioned below, any seagoing vessel engaged in foreign trade is eligible for registration under the Act (s.203). A vessel ‘engaged in foreign trade’ means any vessel not exclusively engaged in coastwise trade or transportation between atolls, islands and/or ports of the Marshall Islands. Private yachts (including private yachts limited charter and yachts engaged in trade), passenger yachts, and commercial yachts may also be registered in the Marshall Islands. Fishing vessels may only be considered for registration if operated by an entity resident in the Marshall Islands and if the vessel regularly lands its catches solely in the Republic or aboard Marshall Islands-registered processing vessels. In 2012, the Marshall Islands adopted legislation to allow for the registration of vessels under construction.

Age limits

19.5 In order to be eligible for registration, a vessel must be less than 20 years old on 1 January in the year when registration is sought. Notwithstanding the 20-year maximum age, the Maritime Administrator has the discretion to waive the age requirement when:
  • (1) the vessel meets all other applicable requirements; and
  • (2) it has been satisfactorily demonstrated that there is a genuine need for a waiver.

In practice, a pre-registration inspection of any vessel over 20 years of age is required before the Maritime Administrator will issue a waiver of the age limit. Additionally, a waiver will only be granted if an approved classification society has issued a certificate of confirmation of class and confirmed that it is prepared to issue all necessary statutory certificates to the vessel.

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