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Panama: Offshore Business Sectors

Ship Management and Maritime Operations

See Offshore Business Review – Shipping for a more general treatment of offshore shipping registries.

Panama has the largest merchant marine fleet in the world, whether measured in terms of total tonnage or in terms of number of vessels. The registry was founded in 1925 and has no restrictions either on the nationality or domicile of owners or on the age, size or type of vessel. In fact, it accepts many types of vessel that are not counted as such by other registries, such as drilling rigs.

As at 2011, there was a total of 8,900 vessels registered in Panama, totalling over 222.5 million gross tons, making it the world’s top ranking open registry flag.

The registry forms part of the Panama Maritime Authority, and has offices in London, New York, Houston and New Orleans. Provisional registration is effected through lawyers in Panama, but the provisional registration documents can be issued by Panamanian consuls. They are valid for sixmonths, renewable. A considerable amount of information must be supplied, comparable with other registries. Permanent registration with a renewable 4-year navigation patent will follow issue of the provisional documents and completion of documentation.

See Offshore Legal and Tax Regimes for details of fees payable on provisional registration, and fees payable annually thereafter. See Law of Offshore for details of the registration process.

Panama is a party to SOLAS 1974, the Loadline Convention, MARPOL 1973 and 1978, and the 1968 Admeasurement and Tonnage Convention, among other international agreements.

Chartered vessels may be registered on a temporary basis in Panama, and there are special rules for pleasure vessels with less rigorous procedures and lower costs. Mortgages over Panamanian vessels can be registered once the vessel itself is registered.

According to exit polls, 79% of Panamanian voters in October 2006 approved the US$5.25bn plan to expand the Panama Canal. The Panamanian legislature approved the plan in July of that year, but made it subject to the binding nationwide referendum.

Panama's then President Martin Torrijos said that the vote on expansion of the Panama Canal was the most important national vote since Panama gained its independence.

Under the expansion plans, two 3-chamber locks will be constructed at both ends of the canal. This will create a third lane of traffic wide enough to handle the largest of modern container ships and tankers. New approach channels will also be prepared, whilst existing channels will be dredged to ensure large craft can enter the system.

The project will take about seven years and employ up to 8,000 people. Nearly five percent of total world trade transits the Panama Canal. Of this trade, 88% flows between the United States and Asia.



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