Interview: Joel Walton, CEO, Maritime Authority of the Cayman Islands

“Full Ahead” is the motto of the Cayman Registry, and Walton is leading the charge.


Published Dec 24, 2018 4:37 PM by Jack O'Connell

(Article originally published in Nov/Dec 2018 edition.)

[By Jack O’Connell]

A native Caymanian, Joel Walton was educated in Canada at Brock University and the University of Windsor, where he received his MBA in finance. Upon returning home, he served in several posts within the Cayman Islands public sector, including Deputy Financial Secretary, before assuming his current role in 2004.

Where exactly are the Cayman Islands?

The Cayman Islands are an English-speaking Overseas British Territory. The trio of islands (Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman) are located in the northwestern Caribbean about 150 miles south of Cuba and 170 miles northwest of Jamaica. From Miami, we’re about 460 miles south.

What are they known for?

The Cayman Islands have year-round warmth and state-of-the-art infrastructure along with the highest per-capita income in the Caribbean. Cayman is recognized as a major international financial center and the world’s leading domicile for offshore hedge funds. It’s also the second largest captive insurance center in the world and a global leader in structured finance. The Islands are consistently recognized by the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) as a leader within the Caribbean in the fight against money laundering.

We are also known, of course, for our amazing diving and beautiful beaches. Cayman is one of the top dive destinations in the world, and Seven Mile Beach was named one of the Ultimate Beaches in the region by Caribbean Travel & Life.

Where does the name “Cayman” come from?

The trio of islands was called the “Caimanas” which derived from the native word for the crocodiles that used to inhabit the islands. The name then evolved into “Cayman.”

The Cayman Registry was founded in 1903, more than a century ago. Tell us about that and the registry’s history over the years.

The original Cayman Islands Shipping Registry (CISR) – branded as the Cayman Registry – was established in 1903 when the capital city of George Town was formally recognized as a British Port of Registry. From its inception, CISR evolved from its primary function of vessel registration to the implementation of other services including its own survey and inspection functions, enabling Cayman to receive Category One status from the U.K. in 1991.

This designation allows the registration of vessels of any age, class and size from small yachts to supertankers, provided certain quality standards are met. Category One status demonstrates complete compliance with the most important international maritime standards.

In 2005, CISR became a division of the Maritime Authority of the Cayman Islands (MACI). MACI functions as the maritime administration of the Cayman Islands and as such discharges, on behalf of the Cayman Islands government, the full range of responsibilities and services normally associated with a maritime administration – like your MARAD in the U.S.

As a result, CISR was restructured as the business and client-services division of MACI, enabling it to operate with greater efficiency and a focus on fee-for-service activities. It also enabled CISR to expand into helping lead maritime regulatory development within the U.K. Red Ensign Group (ship registries that fly the British flag, or Red Ensign) while maintaining its preeminence in large yachts.

Where does it rank in terms of tonnage or number of vessels?

We are a fairly small registry with about 2,200 units on the flag and 5.5 million gross tons. We have seen an annual increase of approximately 10 percent in gross tonnage over the last few years. Our main focus is to maintain a high quality ranking together with moderate growth in fleet size.

How many offices are there and where are they located?

Offices include the Head Office in Grand Cayman, the European Regional Office in Southampton and the Asian Regional Office in Singapore. There are also Representative Offices in Athens, Fort Lauderdale, Tokyo, Valbonne (France) and Panama. We have a number of technical surveyors located in other locations.

Explain for our readers what a ship registry does.

We provide flag-state services to shipowners and their vessels. This includes the actual process of registering the vessel as well as maintaining the official register of ships. We also provide technical support for vessels and their owners including issuing statutory certificates, dispensations, interpretations of IMO requirements and the like. In addition, we carry out port-state control inspections in the Cayman Islands.

What are your main products and services?

Let me list them. There are others, but these are the main ones:

Vessel Registration – The Cayman Islands are strongly represented in both pleasure yachts and commercial shipping.

Survey & Certification – Professional survey services to Cayman-registered vessels globally and to newbuilds irrespective of flag to ensure they are built and maintained in accordance with international and domestic legislation. 

Crew Compliance & Documentation – Ensuring a ship is safely crewed and the crew is properly trained, certified and medically fit while working on Cayman Islands-registered ships.

Vessel Construction Supervision – Attendance at key strategic points during the newbuild phase of construction to ensure compliance with approved plans and provide additional guidance as needed.

Maritime Consultancy – Employing innovative solutions on various maritime issues utilizing informed and efficient expertise.

Vessel Plan Approval – Detailed services and guidance for vessel plans to ensure  the Survey and Certification for vessels irrespective of flag.

The Cayman Registry is known as the “premium yacht flag” and is home to some of the biggest yachts in the world. What makes it so attractive to yacht owners?

We offer unparalleled customer service, experienced administrative staff located globally, an efficient registration system and a competitive pricing structure combined with highly specialized service providers, making us the preferred choice for the discerning shipowner. Cayman-flagged vessels are considered some of the safest and most compliant in the world. This is demonstrated by our White List status on the Paris and Tokyo Memoranda of Understanding as well as our Qualship 21 status with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Cayman Registry has kept ahead of the curve by continually updating legislation and introducing innovations that enhance safety while also preventing pollution. We are a leader in regulatory and advisory services and are recognized for our technical excellence. The highly skilled technical staff that works for the Registry has been involved in the majority of the largest newbuild yacht projects in the world over the last 20 years. As such, they can offer the best possible advice to owners and find pragmatic solutions to new and novel designs without compromising quality or safety.

What is Qualship 21?

Qualship 21 is the USCG’s initiative to identify high-quality ships and flag-states. The requirements to maintain Qualship 21 status are very high (the three-year rolling average for PSC detentions-to-inspections ratio must be below one percent), and we are certainly proud of the fact that Cayman is one of the very few flag-states that have managed to maintain their Qualship 21 status consistently since 2011.

Are merchant vessels – bulkers, tankers and the like – an important market as well?

Yes, the merchant market has always been important to Cayman Registry, and the merchant fleet actually makes up 90 percent of the total gross tonnage of the flag. We have put a lot of focus on developing our merchant part of the registry over the last 10+ years in order to offer convenient and high-quality services at a cost-effective level to our shipping partners.

As you noted, the Cayman Registry is consistently ranked among the best and safest in the world by the Paris MOU, the Tokyo MOU and the International Chamber of Shipping. What’s your secret?

We’ve been fortunate to work with shipowners and management companies that share our focus on quality operation. We put a lot of emphasis on monitoring the performance of our vessels and following up with the management companies if we see any significant change. – MarEx

Jack O’Connell is the magazine’s Senior Editor.

This article originally appeared in the November / December 2018 edition of The Maritime Executive Magazine.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.