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Arnulfo Franco[248]


The Panamanian Register has a very long history. It was established in 1925 and the users were primarily shipowners of non-fishing vessels. Nevertheless, it came to have an important fishing fleet until 1998, when the State took different decisions, including requiring a fishing license to be obtained prior to registration of a fishing vessel in the Merchant Marine. As a consequence, many vessels left and others were removed from the Register.

Since 2001, measures have been established to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels from being entered into the Register and, at the same time, to control fishing capacity in the specific case of longliners. Nowadays, Panama is developing some measures that take into account the problem of illegal fishing and the problem of vessels that belong to the Panamanian Register and do not comply with the corresponding regulations.


A historical review of the operation of the Panamanian ships register, especially in relation to fishing vessels, shows the efforts that Panama has undertaken in order to achieve, as flag State, the implementation of the conservation and management measures of the different regional and subregional fisheries organizations. These measures have economic relevance for the country. Panama has taken the decision to promote an open register, with the objective, inter-alia, of implementing international agreements related to security, labour issues, granting of profesional titles, and resource conservation. It has allowed the development of appropriate rules for fishing vessels registration, keeping in mind, for the future, the necessity of adapting the legislation and defining actions according to the changes in fishing and marine living resources conservation.


During the 1960s and 1970s, the quantity of longliners registered in Panama increased. Tuna longline fishing increased dramatically, first in Japan and then in Korea and Taiwan. Some countries fixed a limit to the fishing licences and only admitted the entry of a new vessel if another one left the fishery. This situation, coupled with advantages of registering in Panama, such as the absence of national restrictions with respect to the crew, the absence of taxes and the possibility of avoiding insurance requirements, caused a majority of these vessels to move to the Panamanian open register. During these years and later on, it was certainly not known what type of fishing vessels were registered, and in many cases the fishing area or species fished was not known.

In the period 1980-1989 regional fisheries management organizations adopted a set of management measures. The vessels continued to be registered in Panama, but with the objective of avoiding these measures, principally those of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT). What most of the vessels did was to constantly change their flags; some of the vessels had two flags and the majority of them had a Panamanian flag.

The registration numbers and the vessel names were not clearly identifiable. Because the largest number of vessels flew the Panamanian flag, all the unidentified vessels seemed to belong to Panama and unfortunately the Panamanian register became a synonym for a "Flag of Convenience" for illegal fishing.

Between 1990 and 1995, the quantity of the old Japanese and Korean longliners registered in Panama decreased; it was not easy for them to support their tuna fishing costs. During that time, the Taiwanese vessels turned to the use of open register flags, especially the Panamanian flag.

The activity of open register vessels in the Mediterranean soon became a problem, and in 1992 ICCAT had officially informed Panama of the Panamanian-flagged vessels that were fishing against conservation and management measures.

During that period, regional fisheries organizations implemented new international regulations relating to the catch of some species. In 1994 ICCAT recommended a restriction of the bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) catches in the Atlantic Sea, and officially established the Bluefin Tuna Statistical Document Programme.

In 1995 ICCAT notified Panama, Honduras and Belize, with respect to their flag vessels, of fishing practices which were identified as being in contravention of the management measures.

Between 1996 and 2000, the international community criticized strongly the activities of the fishing fleet registered in Panama. The Consular and Vessels Division approved the bluefin tuna statistical document and the Consul of Panama in the Canary Islands was authorized to sign it.

At the end of 1997 the obligation to obtain a fishing licence prior to registration in the Merchant Marine Register was established. Many vessels that did not apply to obtain the fishing licence were cancelled from the Register. Fishing of bluefin tuna and northern or southern Atlantic albacore tuna (Thunnus alalunga) was not authorized; fishing in the Mediterranean waters was not authorized.

In 1998 Panama became Contracting Party to ICCAT (Law N° 74 November 10th 1998) and since 1999, a VMS system is required in order to obtain a fishing license. The ICCAT Port Inspection Scheme has subsequently been adopted.

In 1998 by Law Decree N° 7, February 7th 1998, an institution called the Panama Marine Authority (PMA) was created; this Authority executes all the Panamanian marine sector competence. Under this new organic structure are: the Division of Merchant Marine, in charge of the vessels register (hereafter the Consular and Vessels Division, which had been operating under the Financial and Treasury Ministry); the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources, in charge of fishing affairs (hereafter the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources, which had been operating under the Commerce and Industries Ministry); the General Division of Ports and Auxiliary Marines Industries, a partly autonomous entity (hereafter the National Port Authority); and the General Division of Seamen.

It was hoped that under the same administrative scheme, PMA, the marine sector development could be strengthened; in practice a defined policy in relation to fishing vessels had not existed.

In 1998 the Law N° 75, November 10th, ratified the Agreement on the International Programme for Dolphin Conservation.

In 1999 Panama achieved the removal of commercial sanctions imposed since 1998 by ICCAT members States, banning the tuna imports from vessels flying the Panamian flag.

According to the Executive Decree N° 90, July 17th 2002, industrial fishing vessels of internal and international service, with a Panamanian flag, are not allowed to use gill and/or drift nets.


The Merchant Marine is in charge of the vessels register, including fishing vessels. There are two divisions in the register, the internal service vessels and the foreign service vessels. The first ones are called domestic; these vessels have fulfilled the requirement of nationalization through the payment of taxes for entering the country. In general these vessels fish in Panamanian jurisdictional waters. The foreign service vessels are all those vessels registered in the Panama Register and seek registration because of the benefits that they obtain. These represent the majority of the vessels registered in Panama Register. The conditions and benefits for international service vessels are the same for Panamanian and non-Panamanian owners.

Some of the requirements for vessel registration in the Merchant Marine Register are:

· to prove vessel ownership, an authenticated contract of purchase and sale, shipbuilder certificate if the vessel has just been built, or a document to accredit the judicial sale, as appropriate;

· power of attorney to a Panamanian lawyer for legal representation of the vessel before the General Division of Merchant Marine;

· cancellation certificate from the previous register issued by the relevant authorities;

· technical certificates issued by organizations acceptable to the Panamanian Marine Administration;

· additionally, all vessels of 20 or more years must be inspected in accordance with regulations before obtaining the license.


The fishing vessels registration policies appeared in 1996, when the authorities decided to provide a grant, before the vessel was registered. The Finance and Treasure Minister, through the Consular and Vessels General Division and the Commerce and Industries Minister, through the General Division of Marine Resources took part in that agreement. (As noted above, Panama attended an ICCAT meeting in 1996 for the first time, and became a Contracting Party in 1998.)

Between 1995 and 1997 there was no specific policy about when the consent had to be given, it was only a requirement. However, an important principle was established: the need for two institutions with opposite objectives to consult. With the authorization of the entity responsible for fisheries, the corresponding navigation licence was issued.

In 1997 with the Executive Decree N° 49, November 10th, the International Fishing Licence was established. It is issued by the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources and the vessel is registered in the Register of the General Division of Merchant Marine. This is the first step on policies for the fishing register, and the establishment of specific requirements for the fishing vessel to be registered in the Merchant Marine.

In 1998, when Law Decree N° 7 created the Maritime Authority, both divisions became part of the same institution. Since then, the Board of Directors of the Maritime Authority became concerned with the development policies of the maritime sector and the policies of vessel registration. The good communication between the two departments allowed a cleanup of the registered fishing vessels on the register, but this has not been finished yet. For example in 2003, 220 fishing vessels are registered in the Merchant Marine Register and only 124 of them have obtained an international fishing license.

At this point there is a problem: first the fishing vessels obtain an international fishing licence (which have a one year period of validity, required by Decree), then these vessels obtain the permanent navigation licence (Merchant Marine registration, a four year period of validity, created by law). Some of the vessels do not renew the fishing license but because the navigation license is still valid, they maintain the Panamanian flag.

In addition, the law requires the registration of the vessel mortgage in the National Public Register, as well as the discharge of the mortgage before leaving the National Registry. In this way, it is very difficult to remove a vessel from the register if the mortgage is not paid off.

In the past, fishing vessels have been eliminated from the register at the request of the Division of Marine and Coastal Resources. Nowadays, in order to clear the register, the Division of Merchant Marine is directly cancelling the fishing vessel registrations when the period of validity of the international fishing licence has expired.

Recently, a National Maritime Strategy has been elaborated. It is defined as "the set of policies, plans, programs and outlines, coherently adopted by Panama State, in order to promote the maritime sector development". The Strategy is a mandate addressed by Article 311 of the National Constitution, and requires that all the maritime sector institutions be part of it. The maritime sector is defined as "all the activities related to the merchant marine, port system, coastal and marine resources, human resources and auxiliary maritime industries".

One of the Strategy objectives is related to the fishing vessels register, and, inter alia, it establishes the need for developing a plan to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing. This document also addresses the need for implementing a programme to train people in relation to fishing and to grant professional titles. The main components of the programme are conservation, sustainable use of marine resources and the life security at the sea, in order to support the new country paradigms of responsible fishing and integrated management of coastal resources.

The objective of both the Panamanian register (Law 8 of 12 January 1925) and the fishing vessels register, has been to add vessels to the register. However, since 1996, when the country started to participate in different regional fisheries organizations and to maintain catch statistical documentation, the objective of the Division of Marine Resources has been to keep an international fishing fleet that allowed Panama to register historical catches, and consequently, to be able to demand a larger part of the fishing quota distribution. This new focus has two objectives: to keep an important number of vessels that would receive the established fishing quota and to sustain historical fishing capacity, in order to the further national fleet development.

As noted above, there are two different registries of vessels within the General Division of Merchant Marine: there is a register for foreign service vessels and a register for internal service vessels. The former are dedicated to international fishing, the others operate exclusively in Panamanian waters. Vessels that fish in international waters have a hull or structure made up of wood, iron, steel or any other material; they usually carry out fishing activities outside the Panamanian waters or between the Panamanian waters and the international ones.

The substantial differences between the foreign service vessels and those of internal service, are the requirements relating to security, pollution, labour, titles and others derived from the IMO and other international organization agreements. Nevertheless, many of these requirements are applied to vessels of more than 500 GT vessels, and the majority of fishing vessels are under this range.

On the other hand, there are different control systems applicable to the fishing vessels, which are different according to the two different fleets. It is in relation to the inspections carried on by the General Division of Merchant Marine, which are more severe with the foreign service vessels. Nevertheless, the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources carries out security inspections of the vessels that fish in national waters every six months.

Both the international service fishing vessels and the merchant vessels are subject to inspections relating to life and security at sea, cargo, prevention of contamination of the marine environment, minimal crew numbers. Additionally, The Health Ministry is responsible for compliance with HACCP requirements, when required by the importer country.

There is no difference between shipowners of international service fishing vessels and national vessels shipowners. A national shipowner, living in the country, with a shipping or merchant vessel, registered as a foreign service vessel, has to comply with the same requirements and has the same advantages as the shipowners of other nationalities.

A relevant issue of the MAP policies is that they take into consideration the flag State responsibilities. That is to say that when granting a fishing license they take into account the fishing capacity of the relevant area and if the vessels will comply with the existing regulations, which is extremely important.

The grant of international fishing licences presents a relevant problem to the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources There is not enough information about the rules of the various regional fisheries organizations, and there is not a reference "white list" of fishing vessels. In its experience, the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources considers "black lists" to be of great value. These lists are published without prior consultation with the governments, and do not take into account any comments from them. That is why it is possible to have a "black list" that identifies IUU fishing vessels but not the flags they are flying, nor the explanations or evidence presented by the flag countries in relation to the measures that have been taken against the vessel. The existence of registered vessels identified as IUU fishing vessels concerns Panama. Panama considers that because of its recent history, it has a bad reputation, despite its efforts to ensure compliance by the international fishing register with existing conservation and management measures.

On the other hand, they believe that it would be easier to control and to catch IUU fishing vessels if the Panamanian authorities knew the flag State rules of every vessel and if there was an international port and transhipping control schedule to be complied with.

Another problem is related to the transhipping vessels; nowadays these vessels are considered as freighters and there are no procedures for effective control of the landings of products transhipped from IUU fishing vessels.

Panama has made efforts to adopt the internationally acknowledged rules of ship's bearing, such as the FAO Uniform Specifications for the fishing ship´s position and vessel identification. Resolution 1791, 2001 focuses on this issue, as does the National Maritime Strategy. Moreover, support vessels or freighters that tranship at high sea, must have a VMS system compatible with the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources, and they must also inform date and place of transhipping, species, vessel from which the transhipping is being done and the port of landing. Although in practice it has been very difficult to support these requirements, the General Division of Merchant Marine needs the consent of the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources in order to grant a shipping license to this kind of vessel.

The flag policy of the fishing vessels is not frequently reviewed. Its objectives include registering the vessel, entering into the fisheries under the management of different fisheries organizations and complying with the correspondingt conservation and management measures. The effective fulfilment of the obligations as flag state is the final goal of the vessels register, for both fishing vessels and merchant vessels.


The Panamanian Register is located in Panama city. It was established in 1925. The Merchant Marine has privative consuls over the world. They may be delegated to put into effect actions in relation to the vessels' provisional register, according to conditions and limitations fixed in the particular delegation. The Merchant Marine also has Regional Offices with control and maritime security inspection functions, inspections relative to conditions of seamen and a Security Office in New York, which makes plans, organises, manages, co-ordinates and executes functions of the Merchant Marine, the fulfilment of international agreements and the supervision of the security inspections.

Through the so called Tripartite Commission, composed of the National General Under-Comptroller, the Merchant Marine General Director and the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, inter-institutional consultations about the vessels register take place. The functions of the Tripartite Commision are related more to the budgetary issues and consuls' expenditures than to administration of the register.

Even though the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources and the General Division of Merchant Marine, in charge of the fishing vessels register, are under the same institution, there is no policy orientated to achieve synergy to comply withl the fishing vessels register regulation. National and international fishing is not as important compared with other activities of the maritime sector, such as the vessels registration and ports. This situation, together with the bureaucracy, has obstructed the establishment of new rules and regulations for fishing and national and international service fishing vessels register.


A vessel registration request may be submitted to a Panamanian Consulate or to the General Division of Merchant Marine through a local lawyer.

To request and register a temporary permit, permanent permits and radio licences, the following documents are required (with a notary's certificate, authenticated by a Panamanian consul):

· a complete vessel description (present and previous name, previous nationality and kind of vessel service; name and address of the shipowner, name and address of the shiptenant, shipyard, year and place of shipbuilding, shipbuilder name and address, measures: tonnage, type, HP, type and number of cylinders and vessel speed; classification entity; responsible authority for radio function; IMO number; ISM code for vessels greater than 500 tons); and international fishing license in the case of fishing vessels.

· international Tonnage Certificate (security and technical) in accordance wit the SOLAS Agreement;

· proof of ownership;

· power of attorney to the lawyer or local firm;

· certificate of deletion from previous register.

The vessel registration may be provisional (Law 19, August 3rd 1992). it has a duration of 3 months, and after this period the registration becomes legally cancelled. This special registration is conceded only to international service vessels destined to be breaking up, delivery trips or any other kind of temporary navigation. The vessel receives a navigation provisional licence and a radio permission for the period of registration.

The provisional navigation licences allow the shipowner to obtain and present the needed documents in order to obtain the permanent registration or permanent navigation licence (they have 6 months to complete the formalities). When the vessel obtains a permanent registration, the navigation licence is valid for four years, as isthe radio licence. The navigation licence may be renewed for similar periods, but it has to fulfil the law and regulations that apply to the register and be up to date with register fees and tax payments.

When the consul has received the request, he sends a fax to the General Division of Merchant Marine in Panama, asking authorization to proceed with the vessel provisional registration. He is notified by fax and the vessel receives the letters of the code to use the radio.

A vessel is not authorized to fish by a provisional licence. The provisional licences for fishing vessels have to be authorized by the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources and the vessel is allowed to go from one port to another only, to be repaired or for sale.


Document rights paid for the foreign service vessels registration in the Merchant Marine Register are as follows.

· Vessels up to 2 000 GT, US$500.

· Vessels from 2 001 to 5 000 GT, US$2 000.

· Vessels from 5 001 to 15 000 GT, US$3.000.

· Vessels greater than 15 000 GT, US$3 000 plus an annual tax of US$0.10/each GT fraction above 15 000 GT, with a total maximun of US$6 500.

· All vessels of the foreign service register pay an annual tax of US$0.10/NT or fraction thereof.

Fishing vessels registered in the Panama Merchant Marine Register




























































































































































Consular annual tax:

· Maritime commerce, passengers and fishing vessels, dredges, drillings; transhipping; freights, tugboats: 1 000 GT or less US$1 200; 1 000 - 3 000 GT US$1.800; 3 000 - 5 000 GT US$2 000; 5 000 - 15 000 GT US$27 000; greater than 15 000GT US$30 000.

· Non-self propelling vessels, vessels for scientific activities, submarine providers, exploration, floating docks and in general no commercial vessels: 500 GT or less US$850; 500 - 1 000 GT, US$1 400; greater than 1 000 GT, $1 800.

· sporting and personal use vessels: 100 GT or less US$1 000; greater than 100 GT US$1 500.

Annual inspection rate:

· Passenger vessels: 1 600 GT or less, US$900; greater than 1 600 GT, US$1 800.

· tank vessels: 500 GT or less, US$500; 500 - 1 600 GT, US$750; 1 600 - 15 000 GT, US$1 000.

· Cargo vessels: 500 GT or less, US$500; 500 - 1 600 GT, US$750; 1 600 - 5 000 GT, US$850; 5 000 - 15 000 GT US$1 000; greater than 15 000 GT, US$1 200.

· Pleasure vessels: US$400.

· Drilling vessels: US$1 300.

· Other vessels: 500 GT or less, US$500; 500-5 000 GT, US$800; greater than 5 000 GT, US$1 000.

Annual rate for responsibilities relating to marine activities and for Panama's participation in international conferences and meetings:

· Tank vessels, drilling rigs, passengers vessels, chemical transport vessels: US$850.

· Others: 500GT or less US$300; 500-10 000 GT, US$400; greater than 10 000 GT, US$500;

· All vessels pay US$0.03 NT.

The General Division of Merchant Marine annually collects an average of US$55 million including the money collected by the General Division of Mariners which is directly related to the activities of the Vessels Register. The estimation of an annual average vessel payment is US$5 000, and the fishing vessels pay an annual average of US$3 500. The fishing vessels as a whole represent approximately 1.4 percent of the total Merchant Marine revenue. In 2003, fishing vessels have paid US$390 000 to the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources for international fishing licences, with an average of US$3 000 per vessel.

Though there is not a study on the issue it is considered that the activities involved in the vessel registration generate about US$25 to 30 million to Panamanian companies in the context of lawyers, notaries, translators and register activities and an additional US$50 million in vessel services outside the country.


The General Division of Merchant Marine recognises the following advantages for Panamanian registered vessels.

· All physical or juridical persons with independent nationality and place of origin, are allowed to register their vessels under the Panamanian flag.

· There is not a minimum tonnage established and any size, type or age may be registered.

· The vessel registration is a very simple process, as well as the registration of a vessel mortgage in the provisional register with a six month validity. It is possible to accede to the register through lawyers or through the Panamanian merchant marine consuls, in the principal ports world-wide.

· Specialised Maritime Courts are ready for service within 24 hours. These Courts have experience and efficiently manage complex maritime controversies about vessels, and labour issues that involve sailors in all ports all over the world.

· Fiscal incentives are offered to vessels of old and new construction, that apply for registration.

· The incomes of international commerce vessels activities, fishing included, are free tax.

· Panama is proud of its standard of environmental and security rules.

Number and characteristics of Panamanian registered vessels, Merchant Marine Foreign Service, January - June 2003*



Gross Tons


7 315

142 564 610


5 515

98 695 342

Freight and passengers


371 464



2 011 976

Cargo containers


700 931

Tank vessels

1 500

40 784 897


2 947

5 400 142



162 201



1 820 549



105 354



1 147



33 451



10 914



198 802



54 345



2 219 619



117 617

Pontoon dock


31 454



182 174



10 698


1 058

105 929

Not specified


345 888


10 262

147 964 752

Number and characteristics of Panamanian registered vessels, Merchant Marine Internal Service, January - June 2003*



Gross Tons



23 487



14 705

Freight and passengers


1 168



2 837

Tank vessels


4 777


1 073

86 558






23 425



6 435






4 587






1 534



36 589



8 892



1 246




Not Specified


2 351


1 346

110 045

* Source: Merchant Marine General Division, General Statistics Department. Preliminary numbers.

**Vessels transporting workers from one place to another.


There is no definition for "fishing vessel" in national legislation. There is a definition to categorise different fisheries activities. In practice, the usual definitions are those included in international regulations, and in one specific case, related to support vessels, the definitions have been taken from an ICCAT resolution.

The applications for vessel registration have to be made in the following way: in the case of fishing vessels, to obtain a license, the proper information must be presented. However it is possible to obtain a provisional navigation licence, valid forsix months, but it is recorded in the licence that the vessel cannot undertake fishing activities. It is also possible to charter a vessel to other countries' registries with similar legislation (Law 83, 1976). In this case the vessel keeps the Panamanian register and changes its flag for the register flag of the country were the vessel was chartered.

The fishing license has a value of US$3 000 for vessels smaller than 2 000 GT and US$50 000 for vessels bigger than 2000 GT.

Decree N°49, November 1997, established the requirement to obtain a fishing license, called an International Fishing License, before obtaining a fishing vessel register. The information required is in accordance with the 1993 FAO Compliance Agreement.

In order to obtain a fishing licence, the vessel's representatives, lawyers established in Panama, have to present the ownership power of attorney and the application, which is then analysed by the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources The application has to contain information about fishing area (co-ordinates), fishing method, species, vessel name, IMO number, fisheries organization of the fishing area, EEZ fishing license (if applicable), vessel measurements, hold size included and previous vessel name (previous navigation patent). That information is used to check if the vessels are included in a "black list", the origin of the vessels, if these vessels belong to other registries and, when necessary, the authorities of the vessels' previous flag State are asked about the relevant vessels. If everything is correct and there are no problems with the fishing quota, the license application approval is notified. In addition three vessel photos, from different visual angles, one of them showing the vessel name, are required. Information relating to the last six months of catches is required, as well as the installation of a satellite monitoring system. When these requirements are fulfilled, the fishing vessel license is issued and it is then allowed to apply for a vessel registration. In this case the requirements are the same as for non shipping vessels.

Obtaining the fishing licence is the most difficult step of the registration process. To obtain a fishing licence for the first time requires fifteen days to a month. There are easy cases, especially when the vessel is included in a white list or in cases of licence renewal. The Merchant Marine registration takes almost three days.

The provisional register only applies in case of a vessel moving from one place to another, without fishing. The General Division of the Marine and Coastal Resources sends to the Merchant Marine a "no objection" note and asks for the registration under the explicit prohibition of fishing. The same procedure is applicable to provisional fishing licences. No other inspection is required for this kind of register.

Causes and conditions to remove a vessel from the register, not to renew or to remove the fishing license vessel are established by Executive Decree 49, 1997. They are the following:

· The proven violation of conservation and management measures of regional and subregional fisheries management organizations.

· Unauthorized fishing in any country's EEZ.

· The failure to execute Merchat Marine General Division rules and regulations.

· When the requirements settled by the Industry and Commerce Ministry in order to obtain an international fishing license come to an end.

· When the international fishing license has been obtained through fraud or untrue information.

· The non-fulfilment of Decree 49 (November 1997) dispositions.

· On the other hand, AR N°1791, 2001, points out the reasons to cancel the international fishing license. They are:

- fishing in prohibited areas or with prohibited gear;

- vessel position signal missing for more than five days on the General Division of Maritime and Coastal Resources monitor;

- no timely reception of fishing information;

- no maintenance of fishing logbook on board;

- no payment of imposed sanctions;

- IUU vessel identification;

- proved violation of regional and subregional organization management and conservation measures;

- failure to fulfil General Division of Merchant Marine rules and regulations;

- when the conditions to obtain an international fishing licence from the Industries and Commerce Ministry come to an end;

- when the international fishing license has been obtained through fraud or untrue information;

- failure to fulfil the conditions established in the Executive Decree N°49, 1997.

The Law N°2, 1980, Article 9 indicates that a vessel National Merchant Marine registration may be cancelled officially:

· when the vessel serves a country in war with Panama Republic;

· when the vessel is registered in another country Merchant Marine Register;

· when the vessel is used in smuggling, illegal commerce or piracy activities;

· in cases of unfulfilment of rules related to navigability, safety, hygiene, labour rules and prevention of environmental pollution;

· in cases of non-compliance with international agreements ratified by Panama, or resolutions of the competent United Nations Organizations;

· when the Navigation Licence has expired and has not been opportunely renewed;

· in other cases established by law.


It is a tendency for shipowners that do not wish to comply with the law to deregister their vessels and look for another register with benefits, which implement the regional fisheries organizations' rules. At the beginning of the fishing licence system, many vessels did not comply with the established conditions. Licences were cancelled and the General Division of Merchant Marine was asked to eliminate these vessels of the register. Consequently, the shipowners looked for other kind of registries. The change was so notorious that the shipowners started to seek participation in the meetings of fisheries organizations, to which Panama belongs, and they even started to encourage the government to become a member of all those organizations.

The vessels registered during recent years have been Taiwanese longliners, fishing in the Pacific Ocean and landing their products in the fishing port of Vacamonte. Some of them went to the Caribbean in 2003.

The fishing licence and consequently the registration on the Merchant Marine Register are denied under the circumstances required by regulation and under other circumstances deduced from the fishing license application analysis. But the simple fact of missing the satellite signal, which indicates that a VMS has been installed in the vessel as required, is a sufficient reason for denying the fishing vessel a licence.

Some of the grounds for denying a fishing license are:

· the use of long drift nets;

· fishing in the Mediterranean Sea;

· toothfish fishing or fishing in CCAMLR area;

· if the requested fishing coordinates belong to a country's EEZ and the vessel has not been issued a license by that country;

· if the country has not requested species fishing quota;

· if the vessel is included in a "black list" or, in case of purse seiners fishing in the Eastern Pacific Ocean which are not included in the regional list;

· when they do not belong to the competent fishing regional organization, unless the vessel has a historical performance within that organization under the Panamanian flag.

When the vessel has a fishing license that allows it to fish in another EEZ, the authority that granted the license is asked for advice. In this sense, there were no faults.

There is no MCS, though the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources has recently requested to be part of the International Network for Fisheries Monitoring, Control and Surveillance. In fact this organization has communicated to Panama information concerning the results of the meetings that have been taken place, though this is not an official communication.

It is quite difficult to try to determine the income of the fishing vessel's shipowners, operators or representatives. The Panamanian representative - generally lawyers who are expert in maritime issues- deal more with merchant vessel registration than with fishing vessel registration. As a matter of fact, the number of registered vessels of foreign service is becoming smaller and smaller, most of them (56 percent) leave the Panamanian ports, which means that the economic activity associated with these vessels is different from some years ago. There are no taxes for the internal and foreign vessels fishing, but there are taxes for the processing and fisheries processing plants plants in Panama. The fishing vessels do not receive subsidies, though the shipbuilders, according to rules of the shipowners nationality, may receive some kind of subsidies.

The General Division of Merchant Marine, as requested by the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources, has started to cancel the registration of fishing vessels that haven't renewed or obtained an international fishing license. Law N°2, 1980, established that it is possible to cancel a vessel's registration when it did not comply with international agreements that Panama has ratified. In general the General Division of Merchant Marine has performed in that way. The General Division of Merchant Marine may also deny a registration application when, in its opinion, the application is against the national interests; it is used in cases where the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources does not agree to concede a provisional license.


There is much control and investigation involved in approving an international fishing license. When the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources receives an application, all the information is analysed, in accordance with the Executive Decree, which requires a withdrawal of the fishing authorization if the information is false. But it is also necessary to do that to adjust the application to the fishing reality. Experience shows that sometimes people ask for licenses with gear that should not be used for the species they have to fish, or they use a license to fish species in areas in which there are not such species, or they even use licenses to fish species on the high seas where those species cannot be fished. It is also verified that the vessel is not included in a "black list" and that it is not registered in a register which has been the subject of sanctions by a regional fisheries organization. Then, the species are verified within the corresponding fisheries organization, and it is verified if there is a fishing quota belonging to that vessel, as well. If the vessel is going to fish in the EEZ of a coastal State, a license officially translated and certified by a notary is requested.

The following vessel information and documentation is required:

· previous licence or registered copy;

· IMO number;

· last six month fishing logbook registries (for the first application);

· photo of the vessel from three angles, one of them must show the vessel name;

· VMS system compatible with that one used by the General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources installed;

· shipowner´s name, address, phone, fax and e-mail;

· representative´s name, address, fax, and e-mail;

· name, address, fax and e-mail of the legal representative in Panama, with authenticated power of attorney;

· hold capacity in m3;

· authenticated fishing licence, issued by the competent authority, when fishing is going on in another country's EEZ;

· regional fisheries organization of the selected fishing area;

· vessel tonnage certificate;

· ports where the vessel will land or tranship fishing products or vessels.


There are two kinds of penalties, one of them is established in Article 297 of the Fiscal Code, ranging from US$10 000 to US$100 000 and in case of recidivism the vessel is confiscated. The other one, according to Executive Decree N°49, November 1997, is the removal of the fishing authorization. In a few cases there have been pecuniary penalties, especially because of the absence of statistical data, absence of satellite signal or license application when the fishing licence has expired. When the licence has expired, and when the vessel is included in a "black list" and this condition has been proved, the fishing license is removed and the vessel is withdrawn from the Register of the Merchant Marine.

There are problems in issues relating to the grant of fishing licenses and the control systems. After the analysis and the approval of the applications, it is easy to: verify the positions of the vessels and to check if there are vessels in the forbidden fishing areas, if there are vessels that have entered the EEZ of coastal countries illegally, including Panama's EEZ because the licenses do not allow the vessels to fish in this particular area; and to verify landing ports. Minimum size and species and gear control are the concerns in relation to implementation. The different controls help to improve the situation. In the case of the species known as "patudo" under ICCAT area, only the longliners that catch bigger sizes are admitted. As there is no quota for swordfish, the fishing of it species is not authorized, so the adopted measures in relation to size and catches come from experience developed in the process of license granting. There are problems with transhipment on the high seas; it is difficult to control. A licence for transhipment by fishing vessels has been proposed, as well as the use of the satellite monitoring system. But the problem is that these vessels escape from all the fishing administration regulations and it is very difficult for the Divisions of Marine Resources and Merchant Marine to execute a real control over them. There are also: vessels fishing under another country's quota that have been contracted but not chartered to that country's enterprises; and chartered vessels, which haverecently become subject to regulation by a regional fisheries organization. Finally, Panama is concerned with the granting of fishing licences to vessels that fish in a fisheries organization's area without having competence over the vessel's target species (for example deep waters species in tuna management organizations). The concern in this case is how the authorities could determine if a vessel is engaged in IUU fishing or not.

Controls are being applied to the fishing vessels, in accordance with international rules. Nevertheless, through the joint action of the community and the development of port inspection schemes, those controls may be improved. It is all about accomplishment of minimum size and fishing species rules. This is the weakness of open registries, because its control system operates over the information given by the vessel itself.

[248] General Division of Marine and Coastal Resources, Panama.

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