Panamanian registry before and after Covid-19 - Maritime and Transport Law Committee, July 2020
Jose Raul Mulino
Partner Mulino & Mulino, Panama
Since its creation in 1927, the Panamanian Register of Ships, also known as Panama Merchant Marine, has been confronted with various situations or crises, as a result of events that internationally impact a service of this nature. As a result of the restrictions the Covid-19 pandemic has imposed, the Registry has been faced with big challenges.
The Panama Maritime Authority (PMA) is a public entity and as you may know, the reaction speed to change by government entities vs private companies is very different. Before the Covid-19 crisis I remember attending different seminars, organised by the PMA and the Maritime Law Association on an annual basis, in which the future plans for digitalisation of applications and navigation certificates, as well as upgrades towards a more digital platform to provide a better overall service to PMA users, were explained. As PMA is a public entity, changes were applied carefully and slowly through the years, depending on the government priorities.
When the Covid-19 crisis started in Panama during the month of March, the Government applied severe restrictions in relation to companies’ operations and mobility of the population. This was a big challenge for all attorneys in Panama, as the shipping industry never stops and vessels and crew members demand services on a daily basis. This situation forced PMA to urgently adopt measures related to digitalisation, teleworking and digital applications in a record time. The popular phrase ‘Rough seas make stronger sailors’ really applies to the present situation. From one day to the other, we had to apply for electronic signature tokens, set up your home office, register as a Zoom user, and change the way we had been filling applications for the last 15 years.
In Panama, a series of measures have been adopted in order to keep the Registry of Merchant Ships open and at an almost complete level of operations. Since 25 March, the Panama Maritime Authority has adopted measures aimed at facilitating this possibility for local and international users. The following are the most important ones:
• All users have implemented the teleworking system, which is a tool that allows us to process everything from our homes, given the closure or physical shutdown of our offices by order of the Ministry of Health. Officials from PMA can now process from home the following: consultations, discounts, navigation certificates, cancellation of documents, court order authorizing judicial sale and other applications.
• Navigation Patents and Radio Licenses were granted a cost free 90-day extension, if they expired from March to June.
• Digital application and issuance of digital navigation documents can now be done via the PMA digital platform. Before Covid-19 a few certificates were issued digitally, now they have increased the range of documents, which include permanent patents, radio licenses, and deletion certificates. This is a positive development, as vessels no longer have to wait for original copies, delivered by courier, but instead receive them via email immediately.
• Likewise, the legalisation or authentication of documents issued abroad, was given a 30 day filing period. A Bar Code was established for the processing of consents and deletion certificates as well as digital ‘Tokens’ to facilitate the electronic filing of documents.
• In the case of the Public Registry, digital filing of ownership titles and mortgage deeds was also implemented in record time, in order to prevent delays and affect timelines for registration of securities over vessels.
• Vessels are allowed to carry digital navigation certificates and documents and the Merchant Marine Consulates continue to be authorised to receive payments, as well as to receive such payments via wire transfer.
• It is important to highlight that the preliminary mortgages that expired in this period will be granted extensions, always thinking of safeguarding the interests of both ship owners and the banks that finance Panamanian ships around the world.
Without a doubt, the Panama Maritime Authority, the Panamanian Register of Ships and Law firms have taken innovative measures in the face of the challenges resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, in order to continue serving our shipping clients. I am convinced that all these experiences will help the shipping industry in general to be more efficient going forward, placing more value on the advantages that technology can offer, and try to implement more efficient practices to offer a good service in these challenging times.
Who would have thought a few months ago that you will be working from your dinner table?