The Federal Government is preparing to reform its shipping registry and maritime laws, paving the way to bring more locally owned vessels under its jurisdiction and boost the nation's shipping sector. An amendment to the nation's maritime laws has been drafted by the National Transport Authority (NTA) and submitted to the UAE Government, and the provisions could become law by the end of this year.
"We are revamping the whole registry," said Nasser Saif al Mansoori, the director general of the NTA. "We intend to operate as an international flag on similar lines as Singapore, the Marshall Islands, Denmark and Norway." The new provisions include a more flexible approach to crewing and taxes while not compromising on safety and security, officials said. There are 628 vessels operating under the UAE flag, according to the NTA. Overall, UAE-based shipowners have 974 vessels, with another 110 on order.
The size of the local fleet has helped make the UAE one of the top 20 maritime nations in the world, according to a 2008 report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development. The UAE is one of the top five oil exporters worldwide and has one of the largest deepwater ports in the world in Jebel Ali. It operates one of the top three bunkering ports worldwide in Fujairah and is home to the fourth-largest ports operator, DP World.
It is also home to Abu Dhabi Mar, which is emerging as a luxury yacht maker for vessels up to 140 metres long. While it hopes for 100 per cent adoption, the NTA would consider it a success to have 75 per cent of all locally owned ships under its national registry, Mr al Mansoori said. Around the world, national ship registries vie with "flags of convenience", or nations that offer an expedited registry process for vessels regardless of where they are owned and operated. Examples include the Cayman Islands and Liberia.
"The UAE flag is a national flag and not a flag of convenience," Mr al Mansoori said. Capt Jitendra Misra, the managing director of the cargo shipping line Emarat Maritime and the general secretary of the UAE Ship Owners Association, said a revitalised shipping registry would be a key driver for the local industry. "Seeing how we can revamp the UAE flag is a top priority for the association," Capt Misra said. "The NTA is pushing this forward as much as they can. To change a system within a country is not very easy."
Emarat Maritime has several foreign registries for its vessels, including those in the Marshall Islands, Panama and the Bahamas. "The development of the UAE ship registry is greatly handicapped so far," Mr al Mansoori said, referring particularly to its ownership structure, mortgage provisions and inflexible nature of some rules. The changes will see the Federal Government take an active role in shaping the development of an industry it has largely kept at arm's length in the past.
"The UAE is paying considerable attention as this is one sector that in the past has developed without any support of the Government," Mr al Mansoori said. Capt Misra called the existing processes "a little lengthy and slightly cumbersome" in the UAE compared with centres such as Singapore, which offers a "one-window facility". A revamped system would draw in more ships here and increase the UAE's lobbying power with the International Maritime Organisation, he said.