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Smooth Sailing - Past, Present and Future

The Cayman Islands have a long and rich seafaring history of which they can be justly proud and for over a century one of the guardians of this tradition has been the Cayman Islands Shipping Registry (CISR).

Today the CISR is a first class organisation with a world-wide reputation for excellence and efficiency in global shipping. Its pragmatic approach ensures maximum responsiveness to the needs of ship owners whilst maintaining international standards at the highest level as demonstrated by its "white list" categorisation by the European Port State Control system and by the United States Coast Guard.

The port of George Town has been a British Port of Registry since 1903 when the first merchant vessel, the "El Paso", was registered. The second ship to be registered that year, and the first Cayman built vessel ever to be registered, was the "Lady Smith". This ship was built in April 1900 by James Levy in Bodden Town and was owned by Thomas Connor. This vessel measured 32 feet long and had a gross tonnage of 11.3 tons. That same year the British built “Dawn” became the third ship to be registered in Cayman. The Dawn was owned by Duncan Matheson McTaggart and was 34 feet long and had a gross tonnage of 6.5. This compares with some of the large ships of today with gross tonnages well in excess of 100,000.

These registrations followed the passing of the British Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 which was at that time the most comprehensive and broad-ranging shipping enactment ever made. The CISR was therefore originally modelled on the 1894 Act in order to register ships and implement the provisions of the Act, which preceded most of the current major international conventions on safety and on the prevention of marine pollution.

With the advent of global uniformity in maritime standards, the CISR has kept abreast of these changes by continuously modernising its structure and updating the necessary maritime legislation to reflect the major international conventions and by introducing innovations, which benefit the growth and standard of the Register. At the same time, common characteristics with UK maritime law have been retained but with account also taken of the needs of particular concern to the Islands. In 1992 the Cayman Islands were granted a Category 1 status by the United Kingdom for its Register which allowed the CISR to register vessels of any class and size.

The past one hundred years has seen an ever-increasing rate of growth in the local ship registration sector, with 2331 vessels being registered between 1903 and 1992. Today, the CISR acts as the Maritime Authority of the Cayman Islands with the responsibility to implement, monitor and regulate standards set by numerous International Maritime Conventions and by Cayman Islands Shipping Laws. All the major international maritime safety conventions apply to the CISR. As part of its evolution, the CISR has combined, under one umbrella, the Registry of Ships which deals with registration aspects, with Marine Survey/Safety responsible for surveys and safety of all Cayman registered ships.

The aim of the CISR is to attract owners with high quality ships whilst providing a full range of services relating to registration, survey, policy and advice. It can handle any business within its jurisdiction in the maritime sector, both nationally and internationally. Vessels fly the British Red Ensign or the Cayman Red Ensign.

To qualify to own a Cayman Islands vessel owners must be British nationals or nationals of any European Union or European Economic Area State, including their Overseas Territories. Bodies corporate and “shipping entities” established and having a place of business in any of these locations are also eligible for registration. These include partnerships, exempted limited partnerships and any similar entities regardless of whether they have a legal personality separate and distinct from those of their members. Foreign companies registered in the Cayman Islands under the relevant Cayman Islands law and having a place of business within the islands also qualify for registration.

Growth in business has been particularly marked in the last ten years, with business development targets being achieved, as more and more ship owners recognise the benefits of flagging into the Cayman Islands. Registration across the whole spectrum has grown rapidly with the “mega-yacht” range particularly impressive. Today some 300 commercial ships and 1,300 pleasure vessels, representing a total tonnage of 3.2 million, are registered with the CISR.

The CISR maintains a head office in George Town but also operates through offices and representatives in Southampton, England; Athens, Greece; Amsterdam, Holland and Tokyo, Japan with other regional offices planned for 2005 in Hong Kong and for New York in 2006. The CISR currently is a government unit, headed by Joel Walton as CEO (Designate) and Director of Shipping, but will become a body corporate as the Maritime Authority of the Cayman Islands (MACI) on 1st July 2005.

The CISR is currently funded by a central Government budget. Its future as an Authority will give it greater flexibility as funding will be through fees for services including but not limited to the areas of ship registration, safety and survey, tonnage fees, inspection, port state control, shipping policy and advice.

The CISR can look forward to the future with confidence. It will continue to register vessels of any size or type, provided quality standards are met and to offer the protection of a modern, comprehensive legislation that addresses owners’ needs. Owners can also enjoy the choice of a wide range of vessel ownership structures and competitive registration, survey and tonnage fees, in addition to a stable political, social and fiscal system that offers tax neutrality.

Bets are on the Cayman Islands remaining one of the world’s leading quality offshore registries for the next hundred years.


For further information contact: Corporate Communications