July 2021 | By Laura Harris
COVID-19: THE BAHAMAS SHIP REGISTRY
As the world transitions into a post-pandemic COVID-19 phase, the Bahamas shipping industry and the Bahamas Maritime Authority (“BMA”) are resilient, optimistic and committed to a positive future for the Bahamas Ship Registry.
Captain Dwain Hutchinson, Managing Director and CEO of the BMA said that “The importance and the resilience of shipping has been showcased to the world as we contributed to the global response to the pandemic. I have been encouraged by how well the industry, including the BMA team, have adapted their processes and we at the BMA are looking forward to taking the newly acquired skills and revised processes to continue providing the highest possible levels of service. Of necessity, we have implemented solutions to address unheard-of challenges, the outcome being unexpected benefits in terms of efficiencies for the team and clients alike.”
Throughout the pandemic the BMA has developed a strong but flexible system for inspections, surveys and audits of Bahamas registered vessels.
The BMA requires initial and annual inspections of vessels to be carried out by physical attendance however if such inspections cannot be carried out due to COVID-19 related restrictions an owner/operator can advise the BMA Inspections & Surveys department and provide supporting information. Inspections should then be carried out at the first port where an inspector is available.
The requirement for pre-registration inspections has been waived by the BMA until December 31, 2021 for vessels up to 20 years of age. Vessels over 20 years of age shall be considered on a case by case basis and inspection requirements will be advised by the BMA. All vessels proposed for registration, except for new builds, shall require a technical documentation review.
The BMA requires surveys to be carried out by physical attendance however where surveys are not possible due to COVID-19 protocols the BMA authorises its Recognised Organisations to consider applications for extension/postponement under force majeure or unforeseen exceptional circumstances and make an appropriate recommendation to the BMA. A physical survey should then be conducted at the earliest opportunity.
The BMA also provides various alternative procedures for ISM and ISPS Internal Audits, ISM External Audits and ISPS External Audits where it is not physically possible to attend and a remote audit is not practicable.
As the pandemic accelerated the digitalization of everyday life, so too did the BMA make certain technological advancements to its online platform.
On its 25th anniversary, the BMA launched a newly redesigned and customer-friendly website.
Notably the BMA made a number of technological enhancements to its Bahamas Online Registration Information System (BORIS). BORIS provides a simplified registration process for registered owners, ISM managers and authorised manning agents of Bahamas registered vessels. The service facilitates single entry of vessel details, registration and seafarer applications and certificate verification.
This environmentally friendly and progressive system improves business efficiency, increases accuracy and saves time and costs for clients during the registration process.
Carolyn Moree, Registrar and Deputy Director of the BMA said that “The launch of the new enhancements to BORIS is a significant and progressive step for the BMA. With the rapid increase in business transactions conducted with online assistance during the past several months, it is an appropriate time to launch our Online Vessel Registration System…The registration process is simplified and, with the user-friendly design of the system, we believe our clients will welcome the results of Phase One of this innovative online service.”
The BMA also recognizes the use of e-certificates in lieu of traditional paper certificates. For BMA issued certificates, the BMA has advanced to full implementation of electronic certificates. Certificates can now be obtained instantaneously, records are available online 24/7 and validity may be verified online. The new digital documents shall be issued in accordance with the requirements of IMO guidelines for the use of electronic certificates. Original hardcopy certificates that were previously issued by the BMA shall remain valid and be carried on vessels until such electronic certificates are available.
A new Bahamas Merchant Shipping Act has been drafted although not yet available to the public which is intended to replace the current Merchant Shipping Act 1976 (Chapter 268, Statute Law of The Bahamas 2000 Revised Edition). The new MSA Act is expected to bring a more updated and comprehensive scheme for the registration and regulation of Bahamas registered vessels.
BMA Office hours
In response to local COVID-19 restrictions and as a continued safety precaution for all staff and clients, the BMA has adjusted its operational times and attendance protocols for its offices worldwide.
The Hong Kong and Tokyo offices are currently open regular working hours however external physical attendance at the offices is limited to certain hours.
The Nassau office is open regular working hours however external attendance is by prior arrangement only.
The New York, London and Piraeus offices are working remotely and external attendance is by prior arrangement only. Ship Mortgage transactions require 48 hours’ written notice.
All BMA e-mail addresses remain operational and shall be answered as usual.
Lennox Paton attorneys, notaries and the BMA have new and efficient procedures for registration transactions in place.
Source: The Bahamas Maritime Authority
BMA Technical Alert 21-01
Marine Notice 53
Technical Alert 21-02