In response to the needs and realities of the yachting industry and heeding the advice of numerous stakeholders in the business, the Merchant Shipping Directorate has introduced the Passenger Yacht Code (PYC). This code, which entered into force on 25 May 2021, lays out a pragmatic approach to an increased demand for larger yacht operators that wish to carry more than 12 passengers, while simultaneously ensuring that the highest safety standards, which are more suited to these kinds of vessels, are applied and maintained.
The scope of the PYC’s applicability is passenger yachts that:
• carry more than 12 and up to 36 passengers, and no more than 200 persons overall (the master, crew or other persons employed on board are excluded from the definition of “passenger”);
• do not carry cargo; and
• are engaged on international voyages.
The PYC exclusively caters for the yachting sector and clearly lists the scenarios that fall outside scope. Pleasure yachts not employed for commercial use are excluded from its scope; however, private and pleasure yachts that carry at least 13 guests are encouraged to voluntarily comply, as far as is practicable, with the standards laid out therein.
The PYC was developed with an awareness of the challenges involved in applying certain international convention standards that were originally intended for merchant vessels, to modern passenger yachts or superyachts. Prior to its introduction, yachts carrying more than 12 passengers, and that fell outside of the Malta Commercial Yacht Code’s scope (which caters for yachts engaged in commercial operations that do not carry more than 12 passengers), had to satisfy similar requirements to those applicable to passenger ships. These requirements were often regarded as being too disproportionate and onerous when considering a passenger yacht’s design and general operations. The PYC also aims to better safeguard the protection of life and property at sea, and it strives to continue to promote the prevention of marine pollution from yachts.
Key provisions and acceptable equivalences
The PYC is divided into a number of sections, each containing provisions that address aspects of a passenger yacht’s technical specifics and overall operations, including parts on:
• construction and stability;
• machinery and equipment;
• safety of navigation;
• fire protection, detection and extinction; and
• manning and crew certification.
The PYC outlines several dedicated equivalences to international convention requirements, including those emanating from provisions in the International Load Line Convention, as amended in relation to plimsol markings, sill or coaming heights and glazing. There are also numerous equivalences to requirements in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), as amended – requirements which, in view of the passenger yachts’ technical specifics, design, size, and operational pattern, may be considered impracticable.
In parallel, and without compromising overall safety or weakening standards, the PYC provides for requirements enhanced beyond several of the SOLAS provisions, as well as additional equipment and requirements that are deemed appropriate and more suitable for these kinds of vessels. For instance, the PYC provides for enhanced safety and survivability requirements in lieu of the carriage of lifeboats, subject to conditions laid out in therein.
As far as the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour Convention) Rules 2013 (MLC) are concerned, the PYC dedicates a section to certain acceptable equivalences relating to crew accommodation, stores and recreational facilities that passenger yachts of less than 1,250 gross tonnes may opt to comply with in lieu of the provisions laid out in part IV of the MLC, “Accommodation and Stores”. The PYC also lays down additional requirements in a separate section for personnel protection.
The PYC includes a section on marine pollution prevention and it reiterates the requirements that all PYC compliant vessels are to meet under:
• the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), as amended;
• the International Antifouling System Convention; and
• the Ballast Water Management Convention.
In this regard, passenger yachts will be surveyed and certified in line with the relevant international conventions, and they must carry the relative MARPOL manuals, plans and records (as applicable) on board.
The applicable requirements for surveys, audits and certifications are also covered. Passenger yachts will be classed by a recognised organisation and surveyed, certified, audited and issued with the class and statutory certificates applicable to passenger vessels. Additionally, the recognised organisation will issue a certificate confirming compliance with the PYC.
Another notable addition in the PYC is the set of guidelines for the static chartering of passenger yachts, whereby a passenger yacht that is berthed or anchored at sea is allowed to carry more than 36 passengers. An application must be filed with the Merchant Shipping Directorate – Yachting Section and, if successful, the passenger yacht is issued with a statement from Transport Malta that allows static charters to be held on board. Local port authorities must be kept informed when such a static charter is planned, and the conditions laid out in the guidelines must be upheld. As a growing market trend, this is a welcome addition for passenger yachts flying the Malta flag.
With the PYC, the Merchant Shipping Directorate has taken a significant step in attracting more yachting tonnage to its fleet and to maintain its status as a quality flag of confidence that is respectful of the demands of this fast-evolving industry. The Merchant Shipping Directorate is committed to the growth of this sector, as has also been seen more recently with the introduction of the Commercial Yacht – Pleasure Yacht Changeover Guidelines on 2 September 2021. These guidelines aim to assist all stakeholders by clarifying the salient features and procedural aspects of the changeover in yacht status from pleasure to commercial and vice-versa under the Malta flag – an option often availed by Malta-flagged yacht owners.
by Stephanie Farrugia, Fenech & Fenech