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Merchant Shipping - Global Maritime Capabilities

Ship registration and the provision of all ancillary services is the responsibility of the Merchant Shipping, a body set up by an act of Parliament within the aegis of the Ministry responsible for maritime affairs.

Besides providing ship and yacht registration services, the Merchant Shipping is also responsible for the regulation, control and administration of all matters related to merchant shipping, the certification of seafarers, the fostering of Malta’s relations in international shipping fora, and the administration and implementation of international maritime conventions and agreements.

It has experienced significant and constant growth since inception and has now established itself amongst the largest registries in the world in terms of tonnage. The Merchant Shipping is now, more than ever, giving increasing and fundamental importance to safety of life at sea and the prevention of pollution from ships as well as compliance with international maritime conventions.

The Directorate is headed by the Chief Officer responsible for Merchant Shipping who in terms of law is also the Registrar-General of Shipping and Seamen.

The Flag of Confidence

  • Serious and efficient maritime administration
  • Flag state inspectorate to ensure adherence to international standards
  • Twenty four hours, seven days a week service in respect of urgent matters
  • Sound multilateral and bilateral relations
  • Active participation in international shipping fora

Legal Framework

The Merchant Shipping Act

Passed by Parliament in 1973, the Merchant Shipping Act today contains nearly 400 sections, and is divided in 10 parts. Numerous legal notices have been promulgated under the Act containing subsidiary legislation that deals with the various merchant shipping-related subjects. The Act and legal notices form together a comprehensive body of legislation that is at times both technical and also complex.

Foremost amongst the legal themes concerning the Maltese merchant fleet that are dealt with in the Act is the ‘registration of ships in Malta’. Maltese ships registered in terms of the Merchant Shipping Act are entitled to fly the Maltese Flag and entitled to enjoy the advantages presented under the Act, including international recognition and protection. The ‘Malta Flag’ formally came into existence in 1973, upon the promulgation of the Act – this has been, for Malta, a success story. The Act, in fact, was the firs t legislative step taken towards placing the Malta Flag on the world map. The Maltese merchant fleet is today the largest in Europe.

Backed by an old Established Legal Tradition

Within the Mediterranean, maritime navigation, trade and commerce have flourished under the influence of widely accepted and respected rules of maritime law, at times codified as the Consolato del Mare. Malta’s maritime role has ensured that the study and practice of maritime law has flourished amongst the island’s legal profession.

Indeed, it is this legal tradition which contribution to the formulation of the Maltese initiative at the 1967 United Nations General Assembly that culminated in the adoption of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Vessel registration under the Malta flag and the operation of the Maltese ships is regulated by the Merchant Shipping Act, a law based in the main on United Kingdom legislation, subsequently revised and amended in 1986, 1988, 1990 and 2000. These amendments introduced important measures for control, added safeguards for the financiers, thus making financing more attractive, and a bareboat charter registration.

Malta is a party to most of the major IMO and ILO International Maritime Conventions and Malta flagships are obliged to strictly adhere to the provisions of these international conventions.

IMO Conventions:

  • Protocol of 1992 to amend the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, 1969
  • Protocol of 1992 to amend the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1971
  • International Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972
  • International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973 and 1978 Protocol and amendments, Annexes I and II
  • Annex III
  • Annex IV
  • Annex V
  • Annex VI
  • International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974,
  • 1978 Protocol
  • 1988 Protocol
  • International Convention on Load Lines
  • 1988 Protocol
  • International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, 1979
  • International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation, 1990
  • Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances, 2000
  • International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers 1978, as amended
  • International Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, 1988
  • Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms located on the Continental Shelf, 1988
  • International Convention on Tonnage Measurement of Ships, 1969
  • Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, 1965, as amended
  • Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972, as amended
  • Convention on the International Mobile Satellite Organisation
  • Protocol of 1996 to amend the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims, 1976
  • Operating Agreement on the International Mobile Satellite Organisation, as amended, amendments 1998
  • International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001
  • International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-Fouling Systems on Ships, 2001
  • Protocol of 2002 to the Athens Convention relating to the carriage of passengers and their luggage by sea, 1974
  • Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007 (NAIROBI WRC 2007)
  • International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM), 2017
  • Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009

ILO Conventions:

  • Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, 1948 (No 87)
  • Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, 1949 (No 98)
  • Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention, 1958 (No 108)
  • Minimum Age, 1973 (No 138)
  • Maritime Labour Convention, 2006


Vision and Mission

Mission Statement

Utilising its solid infrastructure, the Merchant Shipping Directorate, through its people, who are its strength, aims at a continuous process of improvement at the same time consolidating and sustaining development, seeking ways to further improve its position as a leading maritime administration that delivers services of the highest quality of service, in line with its responsibilities within a national, European and international scenario.

In accomplishing this mission, the Directorate, will continue to be customer focused, enforce rigorous standards and maintain steadfast commitment to safety and environmental protection.


To be a world class organization that is committed to preventing loss of life, continuously improving maritime safety, protecting the marine environment and maintaining a position of strength and leadership in the field by means of growth through quality.

We will provide services of the highest quality and value with a direct focus on meeting the needs of our customers. We will respond to the customer with promptness, sensitivity, respect and always with integrity.