Merchant shipping and yachting laws in Gibraltar are based on the English Merchant Shipping Acts 1894 to 1988. The relevant Gibraltar Law is the Merchant Shipping Act and the Merchant Shipping (Registration) Act.
What vessels can be registered in Gibraltar?
Generally any commercial vessel can be registered in the Gibraltar Commercial Ships Register except fishing vessels, ships with nuclear reactors and vessels of over 20 years of age.
Category 1 Red Ensign group register
The Gibraltar Commercial Ships Register is a Category 1 Red Ensign Register where all types of commercial vessels of unlimited tonnage can be registered under the British flag. Surveys can be carried out locally.
Gibraltar is bound by all international conventions and agreements in relation to shipping and safety which have been ratified by the United Kingdom thus giving vessels registered in Gibraltar the same status as that of any other British registry.
Who can register in Gibraltar?
In practice the easiest way for a foreign national to register a vessel in Gibraltar is to use a Gibraltar company. This allows a person of any nationality to use the Gibraltar Registry of Ships and can also confer certain tax advantages.
However, as of right, the following persons and entities qualify to register in Gibraltar as long as they are the owners of a majority share in the vessels:
- British citizens, British Dependent Territories citizens, British overseas citizens, British subjects and British overseas nationals;
- Citizens of and companies registered in the EU and the European Economic Area (EAA);
- Gibraltar Companies;
- Foreign Maritime Entities (foreign entities which are authorised and have power to own and operate ships can under certain special circumstances qualify to register in Gibraltar).
Fast & high quality cost effective service
The registration procedure is very quick, however, obtaining survey reports and certificates from classification societies can take some time.
Prestige & competitive rates
Gibraltar is a fully fledged British Category 1 Registry with the same status as any other British Registry. Ship registration charges and annual tonnage taxes are also more favourable than in other British Registries. Ship owners can, therefore, enjoy the prestige and advantages of registration in a Category 1 British Port whilst paying competitive rates.
Protection from debts of sister ships
Gibraltar companies can be used to register fleets of ships so that each ship is owned by a different company. In this way the other ships in the fleet will be protected against Debts owed by any of its sister ships.
No import duty
No Import Duty is payable by non-resident owners when registering a vessel in Gibraltar under a British Flag.
REGISTRATION PROCESS OF COMMERCIAL SHIPS & VESSELS
Generally any commercial vessel can be registered in the Gibraltar Commercial Ships Register except fishing vessels and ships with nuclear reactors. The service delivered is fast and efficient and provided that the necessary surveys and certifications are organised quickly a commercial vessel can be registered in about two weeks.
The following types of registration can be undertaken:
- Bareboat Charter
- Ships under construction
Application Form, Declaration of Ownership & Name of Ship
An application form and declaration of ownership must be completed by the owner.
A name which is different to any other British registered vessel must be submitted for approval which can be confirmed within 24 hours and sometimes in the same day.
Evidence of Title
Evidence of title must be submitted. If the vessel is new or has never been registered before, a builder’s certificate and subsequent Bills of Sale which link the owner to the vessel must be provided. For an older vessel or one which has been registered before, a sequence of Bills of Sale tracing ownership either from the builder’s certificate onwards or for the last 5 years must be submitted.
20 Year Old Vessels
Commercial vessels which were first constructed more than 20 years ago could be registered subject to a pre-registration survey. During pre-registration the Gibraltar Maritime Administration will check the vessel’s PSC History, IS Company Records and EU Med Compliance for safety equipment.
Surveys must be carried out either locally by the Port Surveyor or by one of the approved classification societies detailed below.
- American Bureau of Shipping;
- Bureau Veritas;
- Det Norske Veritas;
- Germanisher Lloyd;
- Lloyds Register of Shipping;
- Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (NKK); and
- Registrazione Internazionale Navale (RINA).
Surveys & Certificates
Surveys must be conducted by any of the above classification societies and certificates provided depending on the type of vessel. These include: Load Line Certificate; Oil Pollution Prevention Certificate; Cargo Ships Safety Construction Certificate; Cargo Ships Safety Equipment Certificate; Cargo Ships Safety Radio Certificate; Passenger Ships Safety Certificate.
More specific information can be provided upon request.
The officers of the crew must possess qualifications which are accepted by the British Authorities. Further details can be provided upon request.
Annual Tonnage Tax
The Gibraltar Commercial Registry operates the tonnage tax method of calculating corporation tax profits. Tonnage tax is calculated not on the profit or loss of the vessel in a given year but by applying a notional annual income on its net registered tonnage. This means that the tax burden is known in advance and is neutral to the performance of the company. The effect is to ring-fence the vessel’s tax liabilities, making financial planning and long-term strategic operations easier.
If the ship owner is a company the following documents must also be provided: a certified copy of the certificate of incorporation, an appointment of an authorised officer and a letter as to the principal place of business of the company.
Carving & Marking Note
Once the Registry is satisfied that the vessel can be registered in Gibraltar, it will issue a carving and marking note which shows the official number and name which must be marked on the hull. The carving and marking note can be certified by the local Maritime Administrator, the local Port Surveyor, or a surveyor of one of the above Classification Societies.
Certificate of Registration (“Blue Book”)
Once this has been returned to the Registry a Certificate of Registration will be issued. Additionally, within 60 days of the vessel being registered in Gibraltar, any previous registration must be terminated.
Duration of Certificate of Registration
The Certificate of Registration must be renewed at varying intervals and is done so on payment of a small fee. Our firm can organise this on behalf of the owners and the intervals are as follows:
- Bareboat Charter
- Every year
- Every 3 months or until full registration
- Every 2 years
Gibraltar has a deep sea port which can berth all but the largest of ships. Activity in the port has been brisk during recent years and Gibraltar remains an attractive and a convenient port of call at a strategic location both for merchant vessels, cruise liners and yachts.
There are numerous companies and ship chandlers who service visiting vessels which can supply bunkers, on which no tonnage dues are payable, fresh water, spares, general provisions, underwater cleaning and surveys all VAT free and, therefore, at very competitive rates. Gibraltar also has duty medical officers who can promptly treat the crew of vessels berthing in Gibraltar.
Neil Lopez, Senior Associate.