With so much riding on the label of ‘world’s largest ship register’, the quest for the top slot is spurring technological innovation and alliances with China
According to the Guinness World Records Organisation, Panama took the title of World's Largest Ship Registry in 2018, with more than 8,000 ships registered, representing around 18% of the global maritime fleet.
For tankers, the plaudit of largest register sits either with Panama or the Marshall Islands, depending on the measure being used. Panama has the most tankers, but the Marshall Islands the greater capacity (79M dwt compared to 101M dwt). Indeed, on the dwt front, Panama is relegated to third place behind Liberia. The value of the fleet is another measure that can be used to determine ‘largest ship register’ and according to VesselsValue, on that front the Marshall Islands again comes out on top, with a total tanker fleet valued at US$26Bn.
Top 10 Tanker Registries by Value of Fleet
Rank Name Value (US$ billion) No of Tankers Total M DWT
1 Marshall Islands 26.4 1,193 101
2 Panama 18.4 1,229 79
3 Liberia 16.3 917 83
4 Singapore 13.8 895 45
5 Hong Kong 11.6 475 48
6 Malta 10.2 653 40
7 Greece 9.2 375 50
8 Bahamas 7.4 298 35
9 China 4.5 456 15
10 Japan 4.3 536 11
Given their dominance as ship registries, these countries carry more than a little influence in terms of current shipping practices. The Marshall Islands for example has been vocal in its criticism of the 2020 global sulphur cap and with good reason; it stands to lose most, if not all, if sea levels continue to rise.
But actions speak louder than words and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) ship registry has now joined the Green Award scheme, with ships registered in the RMI certified by Green Award granted a 30% discount on the annual marine services fee.
Theo Xenakoudis (Marshall Islands): "So many RMI owners and operators are going beyond the industry's standard for environmental performance measures"
"Age is often an indicator of a greener fleet, and the RMI fleet is the youngest of any of the top 10 registries,” said International Registries, Inc. (IRI – the manager of the Marshall Island’s ship registry) director, worldwide business operations Theo Xenakoudis. He continued: “We have always aimed to make our fleet environmentally friendly and we are pleased to see that more than 16% of Green Award vessels are RMI flagged. The RMI has also maintained its Qualship 21 status for 14 consecutive years and, in addition, more than 28% of the United States Coast Guard's E-Zero designation vessels are RMI flagged. It is noteworthy to see that so many RMI owners and operators are going beyond the industry's standard for environmental performance measures.”
Green Award chairman, Capt Mattheou, called this cooperation a huge step in the direction of an environmentally conscious and safe maritime industry of the future: “Striking a balance between economically sound and environmentally and socially responsible shipping is of paramount importance. That is a task for the entire maritime community. By supporting Green Award, the RMI Registry joins the frontrunners of the industry, actively taking measures to reduce their ecological footprint and improve safety."
In 2018, RMI registry submitted a technical paper to IMO concerning safety issues with the 2020 global sulphur cap. Mr Xenakoudis said: “This paper allows the shipping community to have a voice in the development of rules that shape our industry. We are happy to be the catalyst for smart regulation that has been crafted with careful consideration from everyone it effects. Shipowners in particular will bear the impact of this transition and this will hopefully resolve some of the concerns about the regulation.”
“As technology evolves, so does the need to ensure that security and verification features are robust enough to meet cyber challenges”
The paper voiced fears over the safety implications and challenges associated with using new fuel oil blends compliant with the 0.50% sulphur fuel oil standard, such as potential issues with blend components, stability, compatibility and other fuel oil parameters. All of these issues are viewed as having the potential to negatively impact fuel and machinery systems. The technical information also touches on operational and technical measures to address risks during fuel switching, tank cleaning and fuel system arrangements (heating capacities and tank segregation). According to IRI, the information is intended to facilitate informed decision making around the sulphur cap.
The Liberian ship registry was also a signatory to the above technical paper and went further in its criticism of IMO’s decision-making process. It confirmed its support for an initiative started in 2018 by Australia, which calls on IMO to reconsider transparency and the role of industry bodies in the organisation.
The Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry (LISCR) is the largest flag state to support the push by Australia, which will lead to a submission to the IMO Council meeting in July calling into question the existing role of the IMO Council and the IMO Assembly. It will also seek to facilitate greater transparency and the wider representation of maritime interests in IMO.
The Australian submission suggests that discussions at IMO should be more open to the public and other stakeholders. It also notes the decreasing accessibility of discussions and decisions within the IMO Council and Assembly for both member states and the public.
Scott Bergeron (LISCR): Aiming to raise levels of transparency in IMO
“As a founding IMO member and the world’s second-largest flag state, Liberia has always been a committed and public supporter of IMO and will continue to be so,” said Liberian Registry chief executive Scott Bergeron. But he continued: “It is only right that we should lend our support to Australia’s push for reform in the light of concern from observers, both within and outside the organisation, that the IMO decision-making process may not be fit for purpose in the 21st century and may moreover be susceptible to commercial influence.”
Away from the sulphur cap, LISCR has recently introduced several improvements to its state-of-the-art web-based client interface system, WayPoint. It has enhanced certificate security features, introducing a QR Code symbol for electronic certificates and streamlining the procedure for document verification.
WayPoint was launched in late-2016 to provide the owners and operators of Liberian-flag ships with secure, real time, user-friendly access to their fleet details, as well as to facilitate International Convention certification applications.
It was upgraded last year to include major improvements designed to help owners and operators manage their fleet-wide regulatory compliance issues more efficiently.
The inclusion of QR Codes will enhance the document verification process, meaning port state control and other interested parties can quickly scan the QR matrix barcode via their mobile phones and be directed to the verification page.
“Liberia was the first flag state to make widespread use of electronic certificates in 2009,” said Mr Bergeron. “We are very happy to see other flags and recognised organisations follow our lead with their own electronic certifications. As technology evolves, so does the need to ensure that security and verification features are robust enough to meet cyber challenges.”
Liberia is also set to gain from the renewal of a maritime cooperation agreement with China for an additional five years.
Under this renewal, Liberian-flag vessels will continue to enjoy preferential rates for tonnage dues when visiting any port in China. These savings - a 28% port dues reduction - can translate to an effective net increase in time-charter equivalent rates of US$1,000 per day, based on a 100-day voyage. Furthermore, an agreement has been made to establish a technical co-operation committee, so that both countries can collaborate in areas such as port state control, crew training and future maritime regulatory policy.
The agreement gives Liberia a clear advantage over other flag states, such as the Marshall Islands, that do not have diplomatic relations with the PRC and do not receive port dues discounts in the PRC. Moreover, recent maritime law amendments introduced by Liberia, which allow a financing charter to be recorded as a mortgage, are likely to strengthen further the high level of mutually beneficial co-operation between Liberia and its Chinese partners.
The agreement was signed by China’s Minister of Transport Li Xiaopeng and Liberian Maritime Authority Commissioner James F Kollie.
Minister Li noted how the agreement had injected new vitality into the friendly, bilateral relations established between the PRC and Liberia over recent years. He said that the renewal of the agreement will further strengthen co-operation in the shipping, maritime, port and transport infrastructure sectors, as well in the training and education of seafarers.
The Panama Ship Registry generally operates at a lower profile than the other highest-ranking ship registries. That said, it celebrated its centenary in 2018, an important achievement for a country where 32% of gross domestic product (GDP) is generated via a connection with the maritime sector.
Like Liberia, Panama has also agreed a Maritime Cooperation Agreement with China, signed by Panama’s minister for maritime affairs, Jorge Barakat Pitty and his counterpart Li Xiaopeng. With this document, Panama is elevated to the status of "Most Favoured Nation", and the signing was witnessed by the president of the Republic of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez and the president of the People's Republic of China, Xi Jinping.
A key benefit of this agreement involves vessels registered under the Panamanian flag receiving preferential rates upon arriving at Chinese ports. There is now reciprocal recognition of seafarers' titles issued by Panama and China, which allows seafarers from each nation temporary embarkation rights in the others’ ports.
Outside the top 10 tanker registries are a number of flags striving to move up the ranks. The ship registry of Cyprus took an important step in that direction following the appointment of Natasha Pilidis as deputy minister of shipping. Ms Pilidis said: “We believe that there is significant potential to increase the contribution of the shipping sector to the Cyprus economy beyond its current annual 7% of GDP.”
Natasha Pilidis (Cyprus deputy minister of shipping): The services the ministry can lend support to extend far beyond registration and certification
According to Ms Pilides, the ministry can lend support to services far beyond registration and certification. She said it was a core value of the Cyprus flag that the ministry will proactively share intelligence with shipowners and operators, offering the best advice to directly support the protection of their business interests.
“We are currently the only registry in the maritime sector that has a system and certification to avoid active and passive bribery and corruption issues”
While the promotion of the Cyprus flag is a high priority, deputy minister Pilides noted that the ministry is also maintaining a keen focus on upholding the quality and range of shipping services and raising awareness of the complete services that are available in Cyprus.
Palau International Ship Registry (PISR) claims to currently be the first and only ship registry to have implemented, and be certified for, ISO 37001: 2016 related to anti-bribery and anti-corruption standards. There are two significant conventions that cover global anti-bribery: the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
This is said to be the first certificate of its kind to be issued to a ship registry
Commenting on this, Palau International Ship Registry chief executive Panos Kirnidis said: “We are currently the only registry in the maritime sector that has a system and certification to avoid active and passive bribery and corruption issues. We have spent the past few years establishing PISR as a ship registry with technology at its heart, supporting a very strong team of professionals who understand the needs of shipowners and operators. The aim of the standard is to reduce political corruption and corporate crime in developing countries and to encourage sanctions against bribery in international business transactions carried out by companies or individuals.”
In a laudable statement, PISC said it aims to eradicate corruption in shipping: “We believe in the principles of creating a truly level playing field in today’s international business environments and we have fought for our voice to be heard in shipping; now we want to help our fleet owners to benefit from this. Our ISO 37001:2016 standard specifies requirements and provides guidance for establishing, implementing, maintaining, reviewing and improving an anti-bribery management system and we have spent the past 12 months integrating this into our overall management system. As the fastest growing ship registry in the world and with our commitment to technology and high ethical standards, we are determined to see any illegal practices eradicated from the shipping world.”
The Singapore Registry of Ships (SRS) is the administration responsible for executing the proper registration of ships sailing under the Singapore Flag and is currently managed by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). By registering with the SRS, ships must abide by Singapore’s maritime laws. In contrast to some of the other top-10 ship registries, the island state is a major maritime hub.
Recently, more than 180 participants from around 80 maritime administrations and organisations, as well as embassies in Singapore, attended the MPA’s 11th Co-operation Forum, where they reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen cooperation in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore (SOMS), one of the world’s busiest waterways.
The Co-operation Forum is one of the three pillars of the Co-operative Mechanism on Safety of Navigation and Environmental Protection in the SOMS. It is the main avenue for the three littoral States (Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore) of the SOMS and the international maritime community to engage in dialogue, exchange information and share perspectives on important issues relating to the SOMS.