The Registration of Merchant Shipping Act (the "Act"), which set up the Belize open ship registry, the International Merchant Shipping Registry of Belize (IMMARBE), was adopted in 1989. In 1991 the Registration of Merchant Shipping (Registration and Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations (the "Regulations") was passed to complement the Act; and in 1996, the Act was amended by the Registration of Merchant Shipping (Amendment) Act, which intended to correct certain misnomers that showed in the Act in relation with the Regulations.

As the registry grew it was decided to upgrade the Act and the Regulations by a new single code of laws, and as a result of this, the Merchant Shipping (Registration) Act 2010 was approved on 23 October 2010 (the "New Act").

The New Act is comprised of twelve Parts and 115 provisions and is adopted in concurrence with the Athens Conventions 1973 and Protocols, and the Salvage Convention 1989.

New provisions are included in the New Act, which can be summarised as follows:

1. Mortgages:

The New Act introduces a new statutory mortgage, i.e. a standard mortgage form, so that by completing and notarising the form and attaching thereto the loan agreement, deed of covenant or other document of obligation and filing such form at IMMARBE the mortgage is recorded; albeit, retaining the allowance for parties to file a mortgage in any other form containing the minimum requirements of Belizean law (name of the parties, particulars of the ship, value of the obligation, interest rate and repayment dates).

Other attractive features of mortgage under the New Act are i) that it can be executed in favour of a security trustee; ii) that it might be subject to "priority notices", allowing registered mortgages to swap priorities subject to agreement between two or more recorded mortgagees; iii) that it can apply to vessels under construction (clear provisions as to the definition and the registration procedures of vessels under construction are also made under the New Act to facilitate such registrations); iv) a procedure for the foreclosure of the mortgage is provided in that the mortgagee may sell the vessel by court order either in Belize or in the jurisdiction where the vessel is located, by following the procedures of either of such jurisdictions; however, provisions is made in the New Act so that the priorities of maritime liens be followed according to Belize law (as determined under the New Act); v) the registered mortgage will not be affected by the bankruptcy of the mortgagor; vi) the cancellation of the vessel from the Belize registry, for whatever reasons, shall not affect any entry in the Register of any undischarged mortgage over such ship; viii) recorded mortgages from a previous registry may be recorded in IMMARBE together with the vessel enrolment, in the same order of precedence as they were in the previous registry and shall hold their priorities accordingly; ix) a covenant in a Deed of Covenant duly recorded with the mortgage may prohibit the creation of further mortgages and, hence, any future mortgage created in violation of such provisions will be regarded as null and void; x) an amendment to a mortgage of any nature shall continue to have the same priority as the mortgage had prior to the amendment, however, if more than one mortgage are recorded then the consent in writing of other prior mortgagees will be required to note the amendment.

2. Maritime Liens:

Provisions on maritime liens are substantially revised in the New Act to accommodate current provisions on international conventions. The New Act provides a new set of priorities of maritime liens making the same as follows:

i) Judicial costs; ii) Claims for rewards for salvage; iii) Claims for wages and other sums due to the Master, Officers and other members of the crew; iv) The registered mortgage; v) Claims in respect of loss of life, or personal injury, whether on land or on water in direct connection with the operation of the vessel; vi) Claims for port, canals and other waterways dues; vii) Claims based on tort arising out of the physical loss or damage caused by the operation of the ship other than loss of or damage to cargo, containers or passengers effects carried on the vessel; viii) Claims for general average; ix) Sums due under obligations incurred for the supply, maintenance, repair and operation of the ship; x) Sums due under the terms of any charter or cargo contracts; xi) The unpaid price of the last purchase of the vessel and any interest owed thereon during the last 24 months.

The New Act also provides for the execution, expiry and calculation of the maritime liens, including the different priorities in connection with the lien on salvage.

3. Limitation of Liability of Shipowners:

On this subject the New Act reproduces in whole the provisions of the IMO Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims of 1976, so as to update Belize's current maritime legislation on the subject, which is allconventional. Units of account for the limitation of liability are in Special Drawing Rights ("SDR"), which at the moment stand at 3.11 Belize dollars per SDR, as is mandated by the Convention. The Belize Port Authority is exempted from this Part of the New Act.

4. Other interesting features of the New Act:

The revocation of the registration of the ship does not affect a registered mortgage over it. It is stated that in so far as there is no convict with any provision of the New Act or any other law of Belize, the non-statutory general maritime law of England shall be adopted as the general maritime law in respect to all vessels registered under the Belize flag. The New Act constitutes a modernization of the legal framework, which set up the ship registry and has served it well, making Belize one of the top 10 open registries in the world. It is hoped that this new legislation will make IMMARBE more attractive to owners and a more secure registry for financiers of and investors in ships.

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.