When ship owners and managers register vessels under the Malta flag, one of the questions which frequently arises is: how will the original flag certificates reach the vessel in time for it to sail immediately upon her delivery and registration with originals onboard? Of course, this issue arises due to the physical impossibility of having original flag certificates, which are issued in Malta by the flag administration, reach the vessel at her delivery port on the very same day she is registered under the flag. This has been resolved by the Malta Ship Registry (the “Registry”) in a very practical manner.
An operational certificate may only be released to a vessel once change of flag surveys and audit verifications are successfully completed and all statutory certificates including the Safety Management Certificate (SMC), International Ship Security Certificate (ISSC) and Maritime Labour Certificate (MLC) are made available by the appointed Classification Society (“Class”). Consequently, in the case of new buildings, the Registry couriers out undated flag certificates, in advance of delivery date, to the attending Class auditor responsible for the release of the Vessel’s SMC, ISSC and MLC. The latter will hold the certificates in escrow until the day of delivery. Once delivery of the vessel takes place and the vessel is registered under the Malta flag, the attending Class surveyor/auditor receives instructions directly from the Registry to date the vessel certificates, upon confirmation that the SMC, iSSC and MLC have been released. The dated vessel certificates are then released by the attending surveyor/auditor to the owner’s representatives or the master of the vessel who can safely sail out and commence the vessel’s operations.
While several ports allow vessels to sail with copies of certificates until originals arrive on board, experience has shown us that a few port authorities around the world still insist on sighting original certificates onboard. This becomes an issue in the cases of a transfer of ownership, a change in management, a change of class or a change in name in relation to which class surveys must be carried out and statutory certificates including SMC, ISSC and MLC released before new vessel certificates may be issued to the vessel. In such cases, the Registry may make arrangements, as in the case of new builds, for undated vessel certificates to be sent in advance of the transaction date, to the attending surveyor who will then date and release the certificates upon receipt of instructions from the Registry.
In other cases, also where no changes as mentioned above are involved however vessel certificates do not arrive in time for a vessel to sail out of a port which requires original certificates, it is also possible for the Registry to scan copies of certificates directly to the Harbour Master of the port where the vessel is lying or alternatively to a nearby Maltese embassy or consulate, following which the copies may be certified as true copies – these are delivered by agents to the vessel which will enable the vessel to sail out of port.
A similar problem may arise at the time of deletion of vessels from the Malta flag. As is the case with most registries, the deletion certificate usually takes a few weeks to be released since original trading vessel certificates must first be returned to the Registry prior to release of the deletion certificate. While this is generally not an issue, in some cases, a confirmation of deletion is required by the incoming registry on the same day to allow re-registration. In such case, the Registry may send a confirmation of deletion directly to the incoming registry confirming that the Malta Registry of the vessel has been closed free from encumbrances. This confirmation however is not to be regarded as an equivalent to a deletion certificate.
Occasionally, a deletion certificate is nonetheless required on the same day as the deletion. As vessels usually continue to operate until the last day and consequently retain original certificates on board until deletion, this creates a practical problem since original certificates must be returned and submitted to the Registry prior to the release of the deletion certificate. In such case, it is possible for the original vessel certificates to be delivered to a Maltese Embassy or Consulate which will then confirm receipt to the Registry. The filing of such original documents is regarded by the Registry as being tantamount to delivery of the original certificates at its own Registry. In fact on such occasions the Registry proceeds with the release of the deletion certificate. The Embassy or Consulate retains the certificates and sends the originals directly to the Registry.
The Registry has always proved to be flexible and responsive to practical issues which arise and the above are just a few examples which demonstrate the sensitivity of the flag administration to the day to day needs of the shipowner all of which have contributed to the popularity of the Malta flag.
by Lara Saguna, Fenech & Fenech Advocates