Malta: Maritime Malta – Legal Perspective

Last Updated: 13 July 2017
Article by Ann Fenech


The term 'Maritime Malta' perfectly describes Malta – a country which has always had close connections with the sea and maritime sector. Malta's position in the centre of the Mediterranean, equidistant from the straits of Gibraltar and Suez and the shores of North Africa and Italy, means that it has always been considered a highly strategic trading post.

Malta's existing maritime diversity is evidenced by the fact that it:

  • has the largest shipping register in Europe;
  • has one of the deepest natural harbours in the world;
  • is home to numerous marinas which now welcome some of the world's most glamorous superyachts;
  • has a tradition in ship repair, with numerous yards and docks – one of which is 230 metres long;
  • has two fascinating ports of call, Valletta and Gozo, for the hundreds of cruise liners either visiting Malta or using it has a home port;
  • is equidistant from the straits of Gibraltar and Suez and thus an ideal bunkering location;
  • boasts an international port (Malta Freeport) which serves as a highly successful transhipment centre; and
  • is home to the International Maritime Law Institute, a postgraduate academic institution under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation.

These achievements are a direct result of careful planning, a strong workforce that is prepared to deliver value for money and a 'can do' attitude. In addition, Malta has a stable and reliable legal regime and laws which give investors and their financiers a high degree of confidence.

Overview of legal system

Before Malta became a British colony in 1801, it had a fully developed judicial system based initially on Roman law and later on the Napoleonic Code. When the British came to Malta, they found a highly developed legal system. That said, the years under British rule (from 1801 to 1964) were extremely important in terms of shipping legislation, as a number of shipping laws passed in England during this period came into force in Malta.

Following independence in 1964, a number of important commercial laws passed by Parliament were based on the British model. These include several laws in relation to financial services, shipping and companies. This, coupled with the fact that English is the second official language in Malta (which means that all legislation is available in English), ensures that investors and their financiers are guaranteed a high level of confidence.

As English is an official language, there is often less bureaucracy compared to other jurisdictions, where everything from a simple power of attorney to the most complex corporate documents must be translated into the working language of the respective country, notarised and apostilled.

Malta has a diverse body of maritime laws to sustain its maritime activities. It is universally recognised that having a solid legal base which provides potential investors and their financiers with confidence that their investments are secure is paramount. Without it, no country can aspire to have good-quality, high-end investments.

In addition to the laws passed by Parliament, Malta is a signatory to an increasing number of international conventions regarding the maritime sector. Further, as Malta is a member of the European Union, it is subject to the entire body of European law.

International conventions
Malta is party to a number of both well-known and less-established international conventions, and these conventions are a major part of its body of law. The more well-known conventions include:

  • the Safety of Life at Sea Convention;
  • the Prevention of Pollution from Ships Convention; and
  • the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Malta helped to launch the discussion on the establishment of UNCLOS on November 1 1967 when Dr Arvid Pardo, Malta's permanent representative to the United Nations, made a heartfelt appeal before the General Assembly highlighting the need to protect the oceans and take all measures against pollution. It was Pardo who, based on Malta's historic position, argued that the seabed and ocean floor should constitute part of the "common heritage of mankind" – a phrase now contained in Article 136 of UNCLOS.

Local legislation
In terms of local legislation, there are several laws which regulate every aspect of the maritime sector. Perfect examples of Maltese maritime law are the Merchant Shipping Act (first promulgated in 1973) and the several pieces of subsidiary legislation promulgated under the act. The Merchant Shipping Act is the undisputed authority for the maritime sector. It regulates numerous pillars of maritime law, including:

  • the registration of vessels;
  • the registration of mortgages;
  • masters and seafarers;
  • safety at sea;
  • pollution;
  • special shipping inquiries;
  • wreck and salvage; and
  • shipowner liability.

Many other legal notices and subsidiary legislation have been promulgated under the auspices of the act. Combined, these laws establish the entire body of law regulating, among other things:

  • collisions at sea;
  • training and certifications;
  • load line rules;
  • the limitation of liability on maritime claims;
  • safe manning and watch keeping;
  • shipping organisations; and
  • the certification of commercial yachts.

The Merchant Shipping Act has been fine-tuned and constantly updated to the extent that the Malta flag is now the European white-listed flag of choice for hundreds of shipowners. The reasons behind the flag's success are mostly operational in nature and include:

  • English being an official language;
  • the tonnage tax regime; and
  • the regulator's ability to offer a continuous service, where necessary.

Further, as Maltese law offers a great deal of protection to financiers, it is attractive to investors. Ships are often financed by third parties. The mortgagee must believe that the law of the flag state properly protects its interests; otherwise, the financier will refuse the owner's chosen flag. As such, the choice of flag is an important consideration.

Maltese law also protects mortgagees against defaulting owners – one of the reasons why the Maltese flag is so successful. Further, under Maltese law, mortgagees are in a privileged position because the mortgage itself constitutes an executive title. This means that the mortgage is equivalent to a judgment. Thus, in the case of a defaulting owner, the mortgagee need not commence an action on the merits against the mortgagor for defaulting on its payments. Any other normal creditor would have to commence an action, make a case in court, obtain a judgment and then enforce the judgment.

Under Maltese law, mortgagees have a number of available options to enforce their rights:

  • Take possession of the vessel – under this method, the mortgagee can trade the vessel as though it has ownership while the vessel remains under the ownership of the defaulting owner.
  • Private sale – under a private sale, the vessel is sold with all its privileged debts and thus will be an unattractive proposition to potential purchasers.
  • Judicial sale – a judicial sale is one ordered by the courts. Once a date is set for the auction, the vessel will be sold to the highest bidder. In a judicial sale, the vessel is sold free and unencumbered (thus shedding all of its previous debts); however, as there is no reserve price, vessels are commonly sold for a fraction of their actual price.
  • Court-approved private sale – a court-approved sale allows a mortgagee to find a private buyer and negotiate a price, thus eliminating the uncertainty of the sale price. To do so, the mortgagee must file an application in court requesting approval of the sale and present two independent valuations of the ship to show that the sale price is equal to or in excess of the valuation. Once the sale is approved, the vessel will be sold free and unencumbered. This method ensures that the vessel will be sold for an agreed price, rather than leaving it to chance in a judicial sale – something which is particularly useful in the depressed, second-hand tonnage market. This way, all the parties involved – including the shipowner – get the benefits of both a private sale and judicial sale without the disadvantages.


One of the secrets behind Malta's success in the international maritime industry is the country's willingness to think outside the box, improve its products, develop new solutions and update its laws to ensure that they meet the needs and requirements of the international maritime community. For example, Maltese law has continued to develop robust structures to assist superyacht owners, distinguishing them from cargo vessels and passenger liners.

To be successful, a country's maritime law must reflect the needs of the community: it must be sensitive to the needs of users and regulators and should thus be continuously updated. Malta's regulator and legislature work with industry service providers to ensure that Maltese law reflects the exigencies of the maritime industry. In this context, the Malta Maritime Law Association (MMLA) has become important in developing the concept of 'Maritime Malta'. The MMLA comprises maritime lawyers and other service providers and has an excellent working relationship with Transport Malta. The MMLA is a member of the Committee Maritime International (CMI), the body tasked with drafting maritime conventions. In 2015 Malta had its first representative elected to the CMI executive committee.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Ann Fenech
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.