New law to speed up ship registration

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The Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda has passed the Antigua and Barbuda Merchant’s Shipping Bill 2017 despite concerns by some parliamentarians.

Three parliamentarians-Opposition Leader Baldwin Spencer, MP for All Saints East and St Luke Joanne Massiah and former prime minister Sir Lester Bird expressed concern about the provisional registration clause to individuals applying to register their vessels under the Antigua and Barbuda flag.

Mover of the Bill, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the Merchant’s Shipping Act 2006 was being amended to allow for the “efficacious functioning of the maritime registration system”.

The Bill allows the Registrar to grant a certificate of registration to a ship where the owner of the ship has qualified or is in the process of qualifying to own an Antigua and Barbuda registered ship.

Provisional registration will be granted for six months but can be extended for another six months at the registrar’s discretion.

Spencer said he was not satisfied with the rational given by the prime minister to amended the 2006 Act, and the fact that once an application is submitted and it meets the minimum requirement a provisional registration may be granted.

“Have we had a situation over a period of time where a number of foreign ships have applied for registration, have had difficulty over an extended period getting the instrument of registration and if so what may be the cause of that, and can those causes be readily addressed within the context of the law without having to go this particular route?

“Because to me what it does is it creates and environment, there is to a very large extent a provisional registration for six months in the first place and then the possibility for another registration for another six months, why should there be another extension for six months?” Spencer questioned.

Massiah in lending her voice to the debate said what needs to be done is to increase the efficiency of the application process which leads to registration and not just grant provisional registration to applicants.

She also pointed out that in some cases a delay in the application process was at the hands of attorneys charged with completing certain required forms on behalf of applicants.

This was a point supported by Sir Lester, who said passing a legislation to deal with the efficiency of a registration process was a “little bit excessive” and unnecessary.

“I don’t think that it is necessary for us to be sitting in here and trying to pass legislation for the ease of business when in fact as the leader for St John’s City West (the prime minister) said a lot of the regulations and the necessary provisions are already in the substantive Act, and therefore I feel there is a lot of problem particularly with the lawyers who are doing the work for the applicants, and that needs to be looked at,” Bird said.

PM Browne said the move was a form of proactive management. He said maritime standards are set internationally and apply to all craft – locally, regionally and internationally.

He said the provisional registration, which has been granted in the past, is in an effort not to put vessels out of business if they have been deemed to have certain deficiencies.

Browne said they will have time to remedy the concerns while still being able to operate having received provisional registration.

The prime minister noted, however, that vessels are subject to greater scrutiny during this time, and are given specific timelines by which to remedy any problem.

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