**An Interview with Ken McLean, Director of Maritime Affairs, Bahamas Maritime Authority**
***BFSB:** It is now 30 years since the first ship was registered in The Bahamas, and more than ten since the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) was established in 1995. The Register is now the third largest in the world. How has that success been won?*
In the early 1990s the Bahamas-registered fleet was growing rapidly so that by 1994 total tonnage had passed the 20 million mark. The Register was working well but it was clear that to manage an international fleet of this size and one that was continuing to expand, a new type of organisation was necessary. The Bahamas Maritime Authority has come a long way since then and has made a massive contribution to today’s Register – which is still growing and now has a strong brand and an impressive reputation in the market place for quality and reliability. Last year the fleet expanded by 6.9% and we now have 1600 ships at 42 million gross tonnes, an increase of 11 million gross tonnes since 2000. But however much this growth is gratifying, it is not our top priority. The BMA’s firm policy is to attract quality rather than quantity and where necessary we turn away unsuitable vessels.
Having said that, growth is inevitable because from oil tankers to LNGs, from container ships to dry cargo vessels, the global economy could not operate without shipping. More than 90% of world trade is now transported by sea and arguably, with air travel and climate change now dominating the environmental debate, this is set to rise, not least because shipping is the world’s most environmentally friendly mode of transportation. In addition, sea transport remains by far the most cost-effective way to move goods and raw materials around the world. So above all, it is essential that shipping is safe. The BMA already has an excellent reputation in the shipping world for very high safety standards throughout its fleet. And we make it our business to listen to and act on our owners’ concerns. This kind of dialogue builds trust, understanding and loyalty and, together with our absolute emphasis on quality, goes some way to explain why The Bahamas continues to be the Flag of choice for the very best of the world’s shipping fleet.
***BFSB:** How important is it that the BMA is based in London?*
Much of the world’s shipping business is conducted in London. The city’s position as a major maritime centre with associated professional services such as shipping law, finance and maritime insurance makes it an essential location for the BMA’s head office which handles around 95% of the Authority’s workload. Indeed, a large part of the Register’s success is down to the close relationships it has forged with its shipowners and their lawyers as well as the provision of a quality service. The Authority’s influence spans the globe, from the major shipping and shipbuilding nations to the International Maritime Organisation, also based in London, where The Bahamas is one of the largest financial contributors as well as being at the forefront of major developments in global shipping policies.
And, as well as our London base and our offices in The Bahamas and the USA, we also have representation in Japan, Germany and Greece where maritime experts with a wealth of knowledge support all our shipowners.
***BFSB:** Apart from the emphasis on quality, what other factors do you think have contributed to the success of the BMA?*
Well to start with, The Bahamas is a maritime nation and as such readily understands the needs of shipowners. But in return, the BMA demands quality and excellence not only from its ships but also from their owners and crew. The fleet is young and we will continue to actively discourage older vessels from joining the Register. That way we will play our part in creating a modern safety-conscious international industry as well as helping to maintain a clean maritime environment.
Because of our insistence on the very highest of standards throughout our operations, the fleet has one of the world’s finest reputations for port state inspections. So shipowners are confident that their vessels will not be targeted excessively by inspectors.
Another of the Register’s strengths is the fact that The Bahamas is a member of the IMO council and an active participant in its work. As such, it has a powerful voice in world shipping and is a major influence in the development of world shipping policies as well as national legislation.
Furthermore, the BMA listens to its shipowners and reflects their interests, needs and concerns through the work of the Bahamas Shipowners Association.
The Flag offers a quality service but not at a premium price.
These and many other factors have attracted a cross section of ship types and nations to the Bahamas Register and have contributed to its success today.
***BFSB:** Last year, the BMA participated at the Connecticut Maritime Association and Exhibition in New York. What was your message?*
The Bahamas is a proud, island nation steeped in the history and traditions of the sea. It is not surprising therefore that today it is a major hub for the shipping industry. But the country has a lot more to offer. As well as its undoubtedly successful commercial environment and its well-established legal system based on English law, The Bahamas does not have a direct taxation system. There is no income tax, capital gains tax or inheritance tax and as a result the financial services sector has enjoyed considerable and sustained growth over the years. The challenge now is to ensure that the shipping community is as well served as other more traditional customers. The BMA is working closely with the BFSB to assess what shipowners want and to make sure that the country’s financial services are better tailored to owners needs, especially those who have Nassau registered vessels.
Bahamian expertise in the maritime and financial services sectors together with a comprehensive range of docking and wet-berth services as well as workshop and repair facilities make a very attractive combination – a “one-stop” maritime cluster of services for shipowners which the BMA actively supports. That was my message.
***BFSB:** You’ve been in post now for almost two years and have already had considerable success in Asia. What’s next for the BMA?*
It is not by accident that the Bahamas Register is the third largest in the world and continues to be the Flag of choice for quality shipowners. But market growth takes time, persistence and professionalism. And above all we must maintain our reputation and brand so that we are always in a premier position when ship registration is being decided. I intend to play a full part in this continued growth.
But it is also important for the BMA to support the Government of The Bahamas in its drive to change the nation’s perception of shipping and to provide more job opportunities in the industry. As in much of the world, the shipping industry and related businesses do not have a particularly dynamic or positive image. And yet shipping is The Bahamas’ third largest industry after tourism and financial services. So raising its profile is quite a challenge. There have been several Government-led initiatives to raise awareness among school children and students about the career choices available. The BMA plays its part. For top-performing school leavers there are two scholarships a year to the California Maritime Academy, sponsored by the BMA and the Bahamas Shipowners Association. Other sponsorships are provided by local companies such as Dockendale and Teekay Shipping with graduates gaining practical experience on Bahamas-registered vessels. It would be immensely fulfilling to see Bahamian cadets coming through the system and going on to take senior positions with the BMA and ultimately for a Bahamian to succeed me as BMA’s Director of Maritime Affairs.