What are the main purposes for registering a ship?

Originally the purpose for registering a ship was meant to control ships carrying cargo in European seaborne countries, it was used to make sure ships were being built in the local country, with crews predominantly of the local country.

Since then, ship registration has been used to document ships for ownership. Documentation provides definite evidence of nationality for international purposes and provides financing opportunities with the availability of preferred mortgages on documented vessels.

 The main types of ship registries.

1.Traditional or national registry. This is a registry that is open only to ships of its own nation.

2. Open registries. Theses are Registries that are open to foreign-owned ships.

The organization which actually registers the ship is known as its registry. Registries may be governmental or private agencies. In some cases, such as the United States’ Alternative Compliance Program, the registry can assign a third party to administer inspections.

How can the registration of a ship be terminated?

The registration of a ship can be terminated, if an application for transfer or transmission of a registered  ship or shares in a registered ship ,the Registrar is not satisfied that the ship  shall remains eligible to be registered.

Registration needs to be terminated for a ship registered under Part B if one of the following occurs:

  • the ship is sold
  • the ownership changes other than by way of a sale
  • the description of the ship changes (eg from pleasure to commercial).


Ways of acquiring ownership of a ship?

Ships can be owned by either one person or co-owners. Because of the enormous cost of merchant vessels, the majority are held by more than one owner. A bill of sale is the ordinary evidence of title to, and ownership of, a vessel. Between co-owners, the right to control and use the vessel is generally reserved for the majority interest. In the event that co-owners absolutely cannot come to an agreement on how to use the vessel, one or more of them may obtain a court decree for sale of it. In general, however, a part owner shares in the profits and expenses from use of the ship in proportion to her interest.

For example, all the ships in the U.S. merchant fleet are registered in the United States and completely staffed by U.S. citizens. Because of the higher labor costs associated with employing U.S. personnel, many ships are registered in other countries to avoid this labor requirement.

KEY POINT: Flag state denotes the government whose flag the ship is entitled to fly and by extension the department of such country responsible for the administration of ships and shipping activities.

ARTICLE 94,UNCLOS: United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982

Some of the conventions are stated below;

1. Every State shall effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters over ships flying its flag.

2. In particular every State shall:

(a) maintain a register of ships containing the names and particulars of ships flying its flag, except those which are excluded from generally accepted international regulations on account of their small size; and

(b) assume jurisdiction under its internal law over each ship flying its flag and its master, officers and crew in respect of administrative, technical and social matters concerning the ship.

3. Every State shall take such measures for ships flying its flag as are necessary to ensure safety at sea with regard, inter alia, to:

(a) the construction, equipment and seaworthiness of ships;

(b) the manning of ships, labour conditions and the training of crews, taking into account the applicable international instruments;

(c) the use of signals, the maintenance of communications and the prevention of collisions.

4. Such measures shall include those necessary to ensure:

(a) that each ship, before registration and thereafter at appropriate intervals, is surveyed by a qualified surveyor of ships, and has on board such charts, nautical publications and navigational equipment and instruments as are appropriate for the safe navigation of the ship;

(b) that each ship is in the charge of a master and officers who possess appropriate qualifications, in particular in seamanship, navigation, communications and marine engineering, and that the crew is appropriate in qualification and numbers for the type, size, machinery and equipment of the ship;

(c) that the master, officers and, to the extent appropriate, the crew are fully conversant with and required to observe the applicable international regulations concerning the safety of life at sea, the prevention of collisions, the prevention, reduction and control of marine pollution, and the maintenance of communications by radio.

5. In taking the measures called for in paragraphs 3 and 4 each State is required to conform to generally accepted international regulations, procedures and practices and to take any steps which may be necessary to secure their observance.

6. A State which has clear grounds to believe that proper jurisdiction and control with respect to a ship have not been exercised may report the facts to the flag State. Upon receiving such a report, the flag State shall investigate the matter and, if appropriate, take any action necessary to remedy the situation.

7. Each State shall cause an inquiry to be held by or before a suitably qualified person or persons into every marine casualty or incident of navigation on the high seas involving a ship flying its flag and causing loss of life or serious injury to nationals of another State or serious damage to ships or installations of another State or to the marine environment. The flag State and the other State shall cooperate in the conduct of any inquiry held by that other State into any such marine casualty or incident of navigation.

                 Essence of UNCLOS.

Once the ship is registered, it has on board the official documents attesting nationality and it is duly flying the flag of the country in which it is registered, it can be said to be under the jurisdiction of that country and when the ship is on the high seas it is, according to Articles 6 and 92 of the 1958 HSC and UNCLOS 1982 respectively, under the exclusive jurisdiction of that State20. This, save for instances expressly provided under these conventions or any other international treaty, including instances provided for by the 1958 HSC and the UNCLOS 1982 include inter alia piracy, slave trading and hot pursuit.

By “jurisdiction” it is meant that the flag State has the power to prescribe rules of conduct, to threaten sanctions and to enforce sanctions with regard to the ship users. Article 5(1) of the 1958 HSC and Article 94 of the UNCLOS 1982 respectively lay down that the State is to “effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters over ships flying its flag”. Article 94 of
UNCLOS 1982, although non exhaustive, is more prescriptive than the related provisions of the 1958 HSC as it lays down explicitly some of the administrative, social and technical duties to be fulfilled by States as part of flag State implementation. The extent, the ability and the effectiveness through which flag States discharge the duties laid down
under Article 94.

Besides, It is the role of the flag state to enforce standards set forth in international maritime conventions to which the state is a party.
Application and enforcement is achieved not only through incorporation of international law into the domestic legal system, but also by ensuring an adequate regulatory apparatus and maritime authority with enough staff to effectively enforce standards.

In this way, flag states are the first and primary means of regulating and overseeing shipping standards promulgated on both the domestic and international levels.
Under Article 94 of UNCLOS, flag states are obligated to perform the following duties:
1) Assumption and effective exercise of jurisdiction over administrative, technical and
social matters aboard its ships both at sea and through regular inspections
2) Maintenance of a ship register
3) Conformity with international regulations
4) Investigation of all reports of lack of proper jurisdiction and control by that flag state
5) Inquiries into all casualties and incidents on the high seas involving one of its ships and cooperation with inquiries held by other states regarding such incidents.