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Regaining maritime supremacy

Regaining maritime supremacy

The Bahamas poised to become regional leader in seafaring

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
June 26, 2018
June 26, 2018
Syneisha Bootle

As an archipelagic nation of 700 islands and cays, strategically located, resourceful and academically equipped to carry out the mandate of a successful maritime industry, The Bahamas should be seen as one of the greatest maritime nations in the world.

The maritime industry in The Bahamas took a giant leap in 1976, three years after the country gained independence, when it joined the International Maritime Organization (IMO). By 1984, eight years after opening its registry to foreign shipowners, The Bahamas had steamed ahead to become the third largest ship registry in the world.

During this peak time, many of the most respected shipping companies including Exxon International, Maersk Line, Teekay Shipping and Chevron became Bahamian flag carriers.

Presently, The Bahamas is the seventh largest shipping registry in the world, with Panama continuing to capture the ship registry market. Notwithstanding the fact that it is in the top ten, compared to its history of maritime success, The Bahamas’ maritime sector has dipped.

Evolving industry
As a result of the successful launch of the maritime industry and its stellar reputation established in the late 1970s and early ’80s, The Bahamas’ maritime industry still exists today. However, simple reliance on past reputation and success will not be able to continue to sustain it in years to come.

Maritime is an evolving industry, with new rules and regulations being implemented, new initiatives coming on stream and new inventions being made on a regular basis. If The Bahamas doesn’t pool its efforts and resources into rebuilding and rebranding the maritime industry, it will get left behind. As the third pillar of the country’s economy, following tourism and financial services, more emphasis and resources should be used to further develop the maritime industry in The Bahamas.

The opportunities associated with a successful maritime industry are infinite. From ship sale and purchase, ship mortgages, insurance, finance, fishing, ship repair (ie welders, electricians, crane operators, etc), transshipment and so on, the maritime industry involves a range of areas of business.

If The Bahamas intends to regain its position on the world stage, it needs to look beyond just ship registration and build other sectors within its maritime industry to provide more holistic maritime services.

Maritime hub for the region
Due to our geographic location and resources, The Bahamas has the capacity to be more than just a ship registry nation, but become a maritime hub for the Western Hemisphere.

Consider the Republic of Malta, an archipelagic nation similar to The Bahamas in size, although a little more populated, and more centrally located in its region, has established itself as a leading maritime centre for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

While in the top ten of ship registries in the world, Malta offers an array of services and facilities to the maritime industry throughout the eastern hemisphere. Malta’s great success is a result of its ability to offer diverse quality services to the maritime world.

If all transactions can be done at one location, then why not? Malta has made itself “the maritime one- stop-shop” in its region. For its part, The Bahamas is well on its way to fulfilling a similar role in the Western Hemisphere.

The country is the home to the Grand Bahama Shipyard, one of the premier ship repair facilities and the largest cruise ship repair yard in the world. The Bahamas also hosts the Freeport Container Port, which is a significant transshipment centre.

Most recently, the LJM Maritime Academy in Nassau was established, offering the potential for young people to explore career options in the maritime sector. This academy represents a significant step in regaining the nation’s prominence in the maritime industry. The academy will significantly boost the sector as a means of employment and opportunity for Bahamians.

Upon completion of the seafaring programme at the LJM Maritime Academy, a graduate will be well positioned for employment as a seafarer, with a potential to gain substantial salaries on ships around the world.

In order to develop a one-stop-shop maritime hub, as the entities mentioned above are privately owned, the private sector and the government must collaborate and cultivate a network in order for the maritime industry to flourish.

Legal infrastructure
An avenue of training for attorneys interested in maritime law is the IMO International Maritime Law Institute, Malta (IMLI). IMLI is an international centre for the training of specialists in maritime law, with special reference to the international regulations and procedures for safety and efficiency of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution.

As a world-renowned centre for training of law graduates, IMLI places special emphasis on international regulations adopted by the IMO. The institute further focuses on legislative drafting techniques designed to assist participants in the process of incorporating international treaty and rules into their domestic law.

Since joining the IMO, The Bahamas has acceded to many of the major international conventions administered by the organization and maintained an active representation in all of the IMO’s committees and sub-committees.

In 1995, the Maritime Authority was established with its chief objective being to attract high- quality tonnage, while concurrently maintaining the highest international standards of safety and operation. In order for the country to do this, it must keep abreast of this ever- changing industry.

One of the most essential requirements for operating a successful maritime industry is the establishment and implementation of modern legislation. According to the IMLI: “The appropriate legal infrastructure in each state should consist of an up to date legislative regime, with suitable machinery for the review, revision and modification of that legislation, to keep it in line with changes in international maritime law and the latest developments in marine technology and shipping practices.”

It is of the utmost importance for The Bahamas to have an appropriate legal infrastructure that incorporates the provisions of the relevant international conventions that will be transmitted into national law and has well-established procedures for applying and enforcing the requirements of the applicable law in all relevant circumstances.

Legislative reform
In his opening speech in the House of Assembly, Minister of Transport and Local Government Frankie Campbell outlined the need for maritime legislative reform.

Some aspects of The Bahamas’ maritime industry are governed by legislation more than 50 years old. The government urgently needs to put the emphasis on updating and modernizing maritime legislation, if the country is going to be competitive in the international maritime industry. Minister Campbell’s speech was not simply the recognition of the issue of archaic maritime legislation, but a charge to aggressively reform such legislation.

Along with a good maritime law regime, The Bahamas needs a reasonable cadre of legal personnel. Such professionals must be capable of overseeing, on a systematic basis, the implementation of existing law, as well as review and evaluate the provisions and arrangements for their implementation. They also need to advise on the need for new or revised laws and regulations due to new developments internationally and, when necessary, prepare suitable legislative drafts for consideration and adoption by the relevant legislative bodies.

Often The Bahamas seeks international corporations or foreign individuals to carry out such tasks. However, when it comes to maritime law, the country already has this expertise in abundance.

The Bahamas’ competitive advantage
Despite the relative decline in its maritime industry, The Bahamas still has an opportunity to rebuild, as it possesses competitive advantages such as geographical location, international reputation and tax-free incentives, among other things. It will take great effort and significant investment if the country is serious about the development of its maritime industry. However, as an old Chinese proverb states: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” The Bahamas needs to take that step.

The benefits of concentrating on the development of the maritime sector are numerous. For The Bahamas, a boost in the maritime sector would mean more job opportunities, an increase in tourism and a boost to the economy. This country can grow and play a prominent role in an arena that is profitable, productive and invites many opportunities for individuals and companies that service the maritime industry.

Moving forward, The Bahamas must analyse its position, fully understand the needs of the industry, and involve relevant private entities in the decision making of strategic national maritime initiatives.

Most importantly, the government needs to focus on modernizing maritime laws and regulations to adopt the standards that govern maritime law around the world. As soon as possible, The Bahamas should seriously consider developing a holistic maritime plan that would encompass diverse maritime services, offering more variety to the maritime market. Once this has been accomplished, marketing is essential in order for the world to be aware and take advantage of the services offered.

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