All types of vessels, from pleasure yachts to oil rigs may be registered, provided that, inter alia, they are wholly owned by Maltese citizens or Maltese Bodies Corporate. The formation of a Maltese company is a straight forward operation; there are no nationality requirements as to both the shareholders and directors.
The registration procedure is relatively straightforward and a procedure is to be followed. A vessel is first registered provisionally under the Malta flag for six months (extendible for a further period, or periods not exceeding in the aggregate six months) during which period all documentation needs to be finalised. The requirements for provisional registration are:
- Application for registration by the owner or an authorised representative, including, if required, application for change of name of ship
- Proof of qualification to own a Maltese ship; in the case of a body corporate, the document of incorporation
- Where applicable, copy of the current ships International Tonnage Certificate
- Declaration of ownership made in front of the Registrar by the owner or an authorised representative
- Evidence of seaworthiness; in the case of trading ships, confirmation of class with a recognised organisation, and information of the ships statutory certification including Company ISM compliance
- Where applicable, request for the Administration to authorise the appropriate recognised classification society to issue the ships and the Company statutory certificates
- Where applicable, application for Minimum Safe Manning Certificate
- Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance (DMLC) – Part 1
- Payment of initial registration fees and annual tonnage tax
- Application for Ship Radio Station Licence
- In the case of non-Maltese owners, appointment of a resident agent
As regards seaworthiness, the Malta Merchant Shipping Directorate has reviewed the guidelines for ascertaining the seaworthiness required in terms of article 12(a) of the Merchant Shipping Act for vessels being registered as Maltese ships. One of the most notable aspects of these guidelines is that ships of 25 years or over will not be considered, while applications for registration of other ships will be considered as per the following considerations:
- The ship is in class or in the process of being classed by a recognised classification body;
- The receipt of an updated class survey status report or information confirming the validity of current statutory certificates, including details of any pending recommendations, granted exemptions, acceptance of equivalents or otherwise, related to class and statutory certificates;
- Receipt of affirmation by the relative class that the ship is worthy of being issued with all appropriate statutory certificates without recommendations;
- The receipt of satisfactory information on the performance of ISM managers managing the ship in question.
Furthermore, when it comes to ships which are 15 years or over, they shall be subject to a pre-registration inspection by an authorised flag State inspector; if inspection is carried out on registration, a non-operational provisional certificate of registry will be issued. As regards ships of 10 years and over but less than 15 years, the inspection by an authorised flag State inspector is conducted within one month of registration. In such case, upon payment of the relevant fees, the owners may even opt to have their ship inspected before registration. What happens if the outcome of the inspection of a registered ship is negative? In this case, an immediate closure of the registry is possible.
Moreover, whenever a pre-registration inspection is conducted, certain one-time-only fees are incurred (apart from the initial registration and annual fees). The following are fees for pre-registration inspections, even when allowed to be carried out on registration:
- 500 on vessels of less than 24 metres without cargo carrying capacity issued or qualified to be issued with a licence or permit to operate in terms of the Commercial Vessels Regulations;
- 1,500 on non-propelled barges of less than 500 gross tons; and on vessels falling under category A. i (v) as provided in the First Schedule (Registration Fees) of the Merchant Shipping Act;
- 3,000 on ships owned or operated by companies that already own or operate 5 or more ships under the Malta flag;
- 5,000 on ships of 500 gross tons and over which do not fall under any of the above categories
The final decision on the registration and seaworthiness of a vessel remains at the discretion of the Directorate.