Merchant Shipping Bill Contribution | Hon. JoBeth Coleby-Davis

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Merchant Shipping Bill Contribution
Minister of Transport Housing

8 DECEMBER, 2021

Madam Speaker,

I rise on the occasion for the passage of this Merchant Shipping Bill which was originally intended for passage to coincide with the twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations of The Bahamas Maritime Authority during nNational Maritime Week 2020 but unfortunately the COVID19 protocols resulted in Maritime Week being cancelled. And so being cognizant of the urgent need for a modern Merchant Shipping Act (MSA) and to retain The Bahamas’ competitive status as a leader in the maritime sector globally, we recognize the critical importance of bringing this legislation to Parliament.

By way of an historical overview, permit me to provide a brief synopsis of the origin of this legislation. The Merchant Shipping Act, Chapter 268, Statute Law of The Bahamas (“the Act”) was enacted by Parliament in 1976. The Act made provisions for:

  • the registration of ships;
  • the control, regulation and orderly development of merchant shipping;
  • the proper qualification of persons employed in the sea service; and
  • Regulate the terms of service of persons so employed.

Madam Speaker,

The Bahamas is a member of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) which is the United Nation’s specialised Agency responsible for the development of International Convention, Codes and guidance in relation to maritime safety, security and the prevention of pollution from ships and training for seafarers. The principle IMO Conventions being the Safety of Life At Sea Convention (“SOLAS”), the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (“MARPOL) and  the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (“STCW”).

Madame Speaker,

Permit me to draw your attention to the alignment of the Bill with the environmental regulations particularly recognising the need to counter the devastating effects of Climate Change and any implications to our fragile marine ecosystem upon which we are very much reliant whether through tourism or fisheries or broader finance. When the Prime Minister joined other world leaders in Glasgow to participate in the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), hurricane Dorian and the existential threat to small island states like the Bahamas was very much at the forefront of our consideration.   In this context, our legislative will aim to incorporate environmental requirements to address the adverse environmental impact from ships so as to  protect our  oceans, prevent or reduce pollution and promote biodiversity.

Madam Speaker,

Additionally, The Bahamas is a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the United Nations Agency responsible for the development of standards and policies for labour and decent working conditions for seafarers. The principle ILO Convention for being the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC 2006).

The Bahamas is also one of the world’s largest ship Registry’s with its ships and the seafarers on board trading globally with a recognised reputation of quality standards through the ratification, adoption and application of the IMO and ILO internationally binding Conventions and Codes.  This attribute of quality enables The Bahamas to attract tonnage to the ship Registry with the revenue from this operation being applied to The Bahamas consolidated funds to which over one hundred million dollars ($100 M) have been contributed by the ship registry.  The ship’s registry is managed  by The Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) which also has the responsibility for representing The Bahamas at the IMO and ILO meetings.

 Madam Speaker;

The importance of this industry is further underscored by former Secretary General

  1. According to the Former Secretary-General of the IMO, Koji Sekimizu, when he stated,  and I quote: ‘…shipping is the servant of world trade… (and) is indispensable … But, to secure a successful and sustainable future, shipping needs to attract investment, to attract high-calibre people and to stimulate creative thinking and technological innovation…Technical innovation and the regulatory imperative will continue to ensure that shipping becomes cleaner greener and ever more efficient…’ (IMO London, 2015)

Md. S.  Karim advocates that “International Maritime Organization (“IMO”) Member States strive to achieve a successful and sustainable future, and to attract investments by effective implementation and enforcement of international maritime conventions.”

 The term implementation in this context ‘covers all relevant laws, regulations, policies and other measures and initiatives that (a Member State) adopts and takes to meet (its) obligations.’

These quotes from pre-eminent industry leaders on the important role of shipping and by extension effective legislation is further re-enforced by the COVID-10 pandemic where shipping and maintenance of the global supply chair was, and continues to be, critical to global economic sustainability with ships, and the seafarers serving on these ship, at the forefront of the response from and recovery to the pandemic.   

Madam Speaker:

This is indeed an opportune time to bring this legislation to the House, as I am indeed privileged and honoured to advise of The Bahamas’ candidature  for IMO Council Membership in Category C; with the IMO Council being the executive organ of IMO and is responsible, under the IMO Assembly, for supervising the work of the IMO..

In that regard, The Bahamas is seeking to be elected  for one the 40 seats on IMO Council  for the 2022/2023 Biennium which will be facilitated by inter-agency cooperation for engagement with all IMO Member States.

It is noteworthy that The Bahamas has served on the IMO Council continuously from 1999 to date; playing a leading role at all levels in promoting change within shipping. We have long been advocates of a goal based approach to regulatory reform.

I further wish to inform that The Bahamas has endorsed and supported the decision of the IMO Council to recognise and advance gender equality through the adoption of International Day for Women in Maritime to be observed on 18th of May annually. This aligns with the United National Sustainability Goal 5 gender equality and in may capacity as Minister of Transport, I will have the honour to celebrate and lead the national efforts in this area.

And Madam Speaker:

Although I digress slightly, it is importantly so; since as a Small Island  Developing State (SID), we uniquely encompass the IMO Category C criteria with a strong maritime heritage and deep roots with the Caribbean region.

And so with this in mind, a key to our continued partnerships is ensuring that we have the legislative and regulatory framework in place to bring about much needed reforms.

To this extent, The Bahamas Maritime Authority, with the assistance of the Office of the Attorney General, undertook a comprehensive review of the Merchant Shipping Act and Regulations to update and address any gaps in the legislation.

Since 1976, the Merchant Shipping Act was amended on numerous occasions in order to remain consistent with the frequent amendments to various international conventions to which The Bahamas is a party. The last comprehensive updating of the existing Act was undertaken in 1999 with several amendments having been undertaken to the Act and the subsidiary shipping regulations since that date.

The Merchant Shipping (Maritime Claims Limitation of Liability) Act, Chapter 281, Statute Law of The Bahamas (Limitation of Liability Act) was enacted by Parliament in 1989 and provided for the liability of ship owners and salvors.

The new Merchant Shipping Bill, (“the Bill”) seeks to continue to provide for:

  • the registration of Bahamian ships;
  • the propriety interests in ships;
  • the training, certification, and watchkeeping relating to seafarers,
  • the conditions of employment of seafarers and the health and well-being of seafarers on board a ship;
  • the prevention of collisions and the safety of navigation;
  • the safety of cargoes including transhipment activities;
  • the prevention of pollution;
  • maritime safety and security;
  • the liability of ship owners; and
  • Investigations into marine casualties.

Further the Bill retains and updates the requirements for the regulation and development of Merchant Shipping and related services. The provisions of the Limitation of Liability Act will be incorporated into this new Bill. Accordingly, the new Bill will bring together Acts of Parliament in a single, comprehensive Act which embraces the subject matter of the enactments.

Madam Speaker,

The process of formal adoption of an International Convention regulates the affected country to have in place the legislative mechanisms to incorporate relevant provisions into its law prior to, or simultaneously with, the presenting of its instruments of ratification or accession to the IMO or the ILO as appropriate. For The Bahamas, this process is currently covered in the existing Act, but this requires continuous amendments due to the number of and frequency of changes to the International Conventions and mandatory Code requirements by the IMO and ILO. This Bill aims primarily to incorporate the mandatory International Conventions and Codes, among other things, into the laws of The Bahamas; in an effort to further and expediently enhance the safety and security of the merchant shipping industry, ships, and seafarers; and to prevent marine pollution. Also, this Bill will provide a more dynamic and efficient legislative process to efficiently regulate and avoid unnecessary delays which will ultimately contribute to the growth and development of the merchant shipping industry in The Bahamas.

Madam Speaker,

 This Bill retains the primary legislation to introduce powers through regulations to the Minister and specific delegated authority to The Bahamas Maritime Authority to pass directive or orders to give effect to, and enforce, IMO and ILO instruments which are mainly of a technical nature. This approach is particularly relevant to those amendments to technical provisions of Conventions brought about by the ‘tacit acceptance’ process (e.g. amendments to provision in a Convention may be deemed to have accepted by an IMO member state within a slated period subject to certain conditions as per the Convention).

Madam Speaker,

The recommended approach taken with this is, to the extent possible, to:

  1. make provision for the fulfilment of its responsibility in the relevant area by statements of principle;
  2. where applicable, note the current coverage of each responsibility by reference to whether  existing regulations or provisions of currently ratified/applicable convention requirements; and
  3. confer upon the Minister of Transport or the BMA, the authority to make further provision by regulation of or otherwise, for the attainment of the desired objective.

The BMA has consulted with a number of stakeholders, including ship owners and their legal representatives, shipping industry groups, the Maritime Committee of The Bahamas Bar Council, to ensure the broader consideration of the proposed amendments and practicality of implementation and enforcement.  This consultation process was critical to draw from these strategic partners and factor in the practical aspect of the broader shipping services so as to draft legislations that can be effectively implemented and enforced.  This level of engagement also aligns with the desired goal of demonstrating legislative compliance with the international Convention and Codes that will also facilitate business opportunities particularly in ship registration and alignment of The Bahamas environmental requirements

Madam Speaker,

The BMA utilised the services of an esteemed international maritime law firm, HFW, who undertook a review of the maritime and shipping laws and legal processes of other countries including, UK, Malta, and Singapore, amongst others, to gain an objective and comparative assessment of countries with International Ship Registries. The text of the Bill was also reviewed by the experienced and competent personnel of The Bahamas Maritime Authority, Attorney General’s Office and the Deputy Chairman of the BMA, Mr. Peter John Goulandris.

Madam Speaker,

The Bill along with the subsidiary regulations is proposed to enter into effect in 2022 and would repeal the Merchant Shipping Act, 1976, and the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Claims Limitation of Liability) Act, 1989.

In wrapping up my contribution Madam Speaker;

And in support of the passage of this Bill, I wish to reiterate that my Ministry by way of The Bahamas Maritime Authority is unwavering in its commitment to facilitate efficient delivery of modern regulations and to advocate for the simplification and rationalization of regulations and guidelines.

Therefore the Member of Parliament for Elizabeth supports the passage of this Bill.