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The Unique Vessel Identifier (UVI) is a global unique number that is assigned to a vessel to ensure traceability through reliable, verified and permanent identification of the vessel. The UVI will be with the vessel for its entire life, regardless of changes in flag, ownership, name etc. It is the key component of the Global Record and it is necessary to maintain its integrity.

The Report of the Expert Consultation on the Development of a Comprehensive Global Record of Fishing Vessels. Rome, 25–28 February 2008 clearly identified the implementation of unique vessel identifiers (UVI) as an essential prerequisite for a successful Global Record and in the thirtieth COFI session the member delegations agreed to the following points:

» Excerpt from the 30th Session of COFI

"56. In relation to the Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels, the Committee:

(a) reiterated its support for the Global Record's continued development by FAO, using a phased approach, with some members having concern for the need to avoid duplication, to keep it cost-effective and to ensure coordination with other existing initiatives;
(b) recognized the necessity of a global unique vessel identifier (UVI), as a key component of the Global Record to identify and track vessels;
(c) suggested the UVI, as a first step, be applied to vessels above 100 GRT;
(d) noted the necessity for RFMOs to coordinate their vessel records with the Global Record;
(e) appreciated FAO's work to assist developing States to strengthen their national or regional vessel registries".


UVI numbering schemes are an integral part of the merchant shipping sector. They are required under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974, for all cargo ships of 300 gross tonnage and above as well as all passengers ships of 100 gross tonnage and above.

The IMO ship identification number scheme was introduced in 1987 through adoption of resolution A.600 (15), as a measure to enhance ship safety and security. It aimed at assigning a permanent number to each ship for identification purposes. That number would remain unchanged upon transfer of the ship to other flag(s) and would be inserted in the ship's certificates. Following adoption of new SOLAS Chapter XI (now Chapter XI-1), the implementation of the scheme became mandatory for all merchant ships as of 1 January 1996.

Fishing vessels are exempt from this aspect of the SOLAS Convention, however the need for a UVI scheme is just as relevant, with the added dimension of combating IUU fishing and protecting global fisheries resources. The need to be able to quickly and accurately identify fishing vessels and to trace and verify the fishing activity they are involved in, are essential to these management processes. The only way to do this with an acceptable degree of accuracy and integrity is to assign a UVI to each and every vessel. Regional schemes, although useful in a regional context are ineffective at the global level where vessel ownership and flags change constantly.

The pre-eminent international numbering scheme operating in the shipping sector is the IMO numbering scheme operated by IHS–Fairplay (formerly Lloyd’s Register–Fairplay (LR-F)). While the SOLAS Convention requires to have an IMO number, IHS–Fairplay have extended the numbering scheme to all vessels of 100 gross tonnage and upwards. IHS–Fairplay also operate an associated numbering scheme covering vessel owners.

Despite not being compulsory for fishing vessels, there are approximately 23,500 fishing vessels currently included in the IHS–Fairplay database. IHS-F has agreed that its scheme could be made available for all fishing vessels of 100 gross tonnage and above.

Table 1 below lists the information likely to be required for the issue of the IHS-Fairplay number.

Table 1

Data Requirements for the Issue of an IHS-F Vessel Number
  • Registered Owner
  • Flag State
  • Name of Fishing Vessel
  • Registration Number (Fishing No.)
  • Previous Vessel Names
  • Port of Registry
  • Address of Owner or Owners
  • Previous Flag or Flags (if any)
  • International Radio Call Sign
  • Where and When Built
  • Type of Vessel
  • Length
  • Moulded Depth
  • Beam
  • Gross Register Tonnage
  • GT
  • Power of Main Engine or Engines
  • Ship Builder
  • Nationality of Shipbuilder
  • Parallel Flag (if applicable)
  • Commercial Operator
    (if applicable: Charterer)
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