Facing Challenges: Panama Ship Registry Adapts to COVID-19 Era
The COVID-19 pandemic brought important challenges to the Panama Ship Registry. “But like the Chinese ideogram for ‘crisis’, composed by two characters: ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’, it taught us to take up the challenge and speed up the modernization process for continuing giving a service of excellence,” explains Rafael Cigarruista, Panama Maritime Authority’s director general of merchant marine and head of the Ship Registry. “We transformed the challenges into the strengths of our organization today,” he adds.
Issuance of most of the Registry's documents is currently done electronically, reducing both the client's management time and use of paper, and this on-going project will continue until achieving the complete digitalization of all documents. Meanwhile, since 2020, QR codes are used for Navigation Patents and Radio Licenses, allowing verification in real time, and all
certificates and authorizations issued through the E-Segumar platform carry QR codes.
This methodology was incorporated during the pandemic to ensure that the Registry’s users would not have problems when presenting their documents upon arrival at different ports.
The Fleet Control and Monitoring Sections were created within the Department of Navigation and Maritime Safety, in charge of the analysis and due diligence process for vessels wishing to be flagged in Panama. It is also in charge of monitoring the positioning of Panamanian fleet vessels by LRIT, where there is a 90 percent compliance rate. The Registry also created the Implementation, Control and Enforcement of International Measures section in the Resolutions and Consultations department, which reviews the measures that are adopted internationally to apply them to Panama’s maritime fleet and Administration.
Panama’s Ship Registry is a firm believer in decarbonization and has had an incentive program for efficient and less polluting ships since 2008. It added a special Eco Ship and New Construction incentive in 2014. Panama supports the creation of the decarbonization Research and Development Fund, to be managed by the International Maritime Research and Development Board (IMRB) with IMO’s supervision, to accelerate the development of new technologies in the maritime industry.
In 2020, the Panamanian flag achieved 100 percent compliance in certificates’ issuance and for reporting to the GISIS platform on the fuel consumption of its fleet.
Last November, during COP26, Panama - which is one of the world’s three carbon negative countries - signed the Declaration of Zero Emissions in the Maritime Industry by 2050 and pledged to work with the IMO for the decarbonization’s 2030 and 2040 targets. The Registry is also reviewing eventual amendments to MARPOL Annex VI to introduce Incentives for ships compliant with design, type of fuel used, and operational measures to reduce polluting emissions.
The human factor, seafarers’ competence, will always play an important role. According to international data, 90 percent of incidents and accidents have variables related to the human factor, which stresses the importance of better trained personnel. New technologies are part of the international maritime industry of today and may lay ground for possible future changes in the operation of ships.
“As an IMO member and a Maritime Administration, we value, support and must ensure the seafarers’ continuous education and training to guarantee jobs for the ‘Key Workers’ of the industry,” says Cigarruista.
To achieve greater recognition of the qualifications issued by the Panama Maritime Authority (AMP), Panama has signed bilateral agreements with different maritime administrations, allowing Panamanian seafarers to provide service on board ships registered under the flag of both countries, promoting national labor and strengthening ties of technical cooperation between governments.
Currently, the Registry is studying the inclusion of Annual Remote Safety Inspections as part of the procedures of the Directorate General of Merchant Marine. This requires creating a legal framework to start with a Remote ASI Inspections Program, with the purpose of complying with the obligation to inspect 100 percent of its fleet. Meanwhile some ROs have already been authorized to perform audits and some inspections remotely.
The Directorate General of Merchant Marine has established the Remote Inspections Policies for Recognized Organizations and Recognized Protection Organizations that wish to perform remote audits on a regular basis. These audits must be carried out under previous evaluation and compliance with the requirements of remote inspection techniques. Such audits should provide the same results as an on-site inspection.
The General Directorate of Merchant Marine has ISO 9001:2015 Certification and a program of internal audits, including the central office in Panama, the International Technical Offices of Segumar and the inspectorates at the national level. It also maintains a program of audits for the Recognized Organizations (RO) and Recognized Protection Organizations (RPO) authorized by its administration, based on the national regulations in force and the RO Code. In 2021, nine face-to-face audits were conducted with companies located in Panama, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates.
“We are preparing for our audit before the International Maritime Organization, from which we expect the best results,” adds the director of Panama Ship Registry.
Panama's Ship Registry ended 2021 with a total of 8,558 vessels and 236M GT Tons, an increase of 2.33 percent over the previous year's 230.5M GT, according to IHS Markit. Panama’s merchant marine represents 15 percent of the world's fleet, according to Clarksons Research.
This year is and will be a year of technological transformation for the Panamanian Registry to advance its modernization process. It is investing in new platforms for service and supervision of the fleet, maritime investigations, LRIT, risk analysis, ship detentions and flagging issues to provide better service to customers.
Competition among registries is fierce and Panama, the world’s largest register, has taken actions to keep its competitiveness, including:
- Renewal of the agreement between the Government of the Republic of Panama and the Government of the People's Republic of China on Maritime Transportation. The five-year agreement strengthens trade relations and the commitment of the Registry of Ships with its users entering Chinese ports. It also provides a series of advantages for shipowners who use the Panamanian flag on their vessels.
- A significant investment has been made in technology since the beginning of this Administration, with the new platform of the Maritime Processing System and Electronic Vessel Registry (REN), the inclusion of new modules in the E-Segumar platform and the validation of electronic certificates through QR codes.
- Panama Maritime Authority has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Class NK on Cybersecurity. This will help to better understand the cyber threats to which ships are exposed and implement more effective measures to control such risks.
- Panama is a member of the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network, BIMCO, Intercargo, Intertanko and the International Association of Drilling Contractors.
This message is sponsored by the Panama Ship Registry.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.