Promoting the Philippine ship registry

Having a sizable number of ships registered in the Philippines brings many benefits and advantages.
Ship registry refers to the registration of the shipowner, the name of the ship, the technical data and performance parameters of the ship, and other information required by the Flag Administration, in our case the Maritime Industry Authority, based on national laws and international conventions.

One salient benefit, it will definitely generate employment both directly, since shipowners and ship managers have to open local offices and hire employees to handle their documentation; and, indirectly, since they would need support services such as crewing, and provisions, among other ancillary services.

Add to this the assurance of employment of Filipino seafarers and, equally important, cadetship berths which have been the problem of thousands of our cadets.

Unfortunately, while the country accounts for about 20 to 25 percent of the 1.9 million seafarers serving the global fleet, we only have about a hundred ships of the estimated 75,000 oceangoing vessels.

Just to illustrate, here are the five largest flag states in the world in 2020, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence.

1. Panama Marine Authority. Panama is a small nation of 3 million people with only one shipping company in operation; however, it has 9,596 vessels, with 235 million gross tons, sailing under its flag, or around 16 percent of the global fleet.

2. Liberia International Ship and Corporate Registry. Situated on the west African coast, the Republic of Liberia has 4,295 commercial ships flying its flag with 188 million gross tons; it is the fastest-growing flag state for two consecutive years, 2019 and 2020.

From December 2020, Liberia outran all the open registries and grew at a pace of 8.6 percent; it attracted many shipowners from Greece, Japan, China, Singapore and the United States.

3. IRI Marshall Islands Registry. The Republic of Marshall Islands lies close to the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Marshall Islands ship registry is placed among the top three registries in the world with a total of 171 million gross tons and a vessel count of 4,313 registered in 2020. Its open registry is preferred by shipowners due to its low taxes and operational flexibility.

4. Hong Kong Shipping Register. Hong Kong’s shipping register is the fourth, with a total of 130 million gross tonnage of the commercial fleet comprising 2,739 ships.

5. Singapore Registry of Ships, Maritime, and Port Authority. Singapore is ranked as the fifth largest register in the world, with a fleet of 4,914 ships aggregating over 96 million gross tonnage.

It can be observed these countries have very few, perhaps several thousand seafarers. In contrast, our country with over 700,000 registered seafarers, has only a fleet of 100 overseas ships flying the Philippine flag with 2.24-million gross tonnage as of September 2022, according to Marina.

So how can we boost our ship registry?

At its peak several decades ago, the country’s ship registry had over 700 ships engaged in overseas trade but it dwindled over the years. Marina certainly knows the advantages of having a strong ship registry, and it has been trying to reverse the decline over the years, but due to circumstances beyond its control like taxes and incentives, the Philippine ship registry remains unattractive to foreign shipowners and ship managers.

One obstacle is the lack of laws supporting the development of a globally competitive ship registry.

Last month, Ilocos Norte Rep. Angelo Marcos Barba filed House Bill 4336 or the “Philippine Ship Registry System Act.” This commendable piece of legislation is long overdue for a maritime country such as the Philippines. It aims to provide essential incentives to promote a comprehensive and orderly Philippine Ship Registry System for the regulation of vessels carrying the flag state.

Thus, we at the Philippine Association of Coastal and Inland Water Ferries Inc. and the Integrated Seafarers of the Philippines welcome this proposed legislation of Rep. Marcos- Barba.

Next issue, we will discuss the various types of ship registries in the world.

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