Low costs, high reliability, low percent of the risk of damage and loss of a cargo predetermined the specific role of sea transportation in commercial turnover. In view of recent tendencies of internationalization of trade navigation, the problem of participation of the Republic of Belarus in these relations is arising. As is well known, considering the peculiarities of Belarus’ geographic location and its farness from oceans’ and seas’ waters the issue of forming of its marine merchant fleet remains to be not the most urgent. At the same time the Belarusian legislation has neatly enough regulated the procedure of registration of sea ships and the performance of their commercial activity on marine spaces.
It’s interesting that the registration of marine merchant ships is quite an ordinary occurrence in the world practice not only in countries, which they initially belong to, but also in other countries. Such information may be derived from the table of countries by their merchant marine capacity, which is based on CIA World Factbook data. According to the table, as of 2008 Germany owned 3 380 marine ships engaged in commercial transportations, from which only 382 were registered “at home”, whereas 2 998 – abroad, in particular in Antigua and Barbuda, Cyprus, Liberia, Gibraltar. Let’s give the other example from the table – Panama owned 932 ships with registration of 929 in Panama itself. The logical matter arises – why not always residents of one state prefer to register their marine ships in this state?
Appealing to the basic maritime law’s notions and categories, let’s touch upon the procedures of sea ships’ registration in Belarus and abroad.
Thus, the right of ownership of a ship owner arises from the moment of a ship’s registration. Different countries provide various conditions for state registration of ships. So, in Belarus the registration is carried out by the Ministry of transport and communications in the State Sea Ships Register of the Republic of Belarus and in a shipping book within one month since submission of an application (with the provided list of documents). After the state registration of a ship, the Ministry of transport and communications grants to an applicant a certificate of navigation under the State flag of the Republic of Belarus and the certificate of a ship’s ownership. Since then the ship gains the right of navigation under the State flag of the Republic of Belarus and consequently has the nationality of the Republic of Belarus.
Comparing the procedures of ship’s registration in Belarus and in countries of a flag of convenience (such as Panama, Honduras, Liberia, Bahamas, Cyprus etc.) one comes to the conclusion that the registration in the latter countries is significantly more attractive since they establish the shortest possible periods for registration (as a rule, just 24 hours) and low tax rates. Thereupon it should be noted that Panama has the greatest sea ships register all over the world. It can be explained in many reasons: the reliability of a flag, low registration fee, lack of an income tax on sea trade operations abroad and so on.
The principal advantage of sea ships’ registration in Belarus is the amount of a registration fee: irrespective of a vessel’s tonnage it is fixed at the rate of 7 baseline values, that makes about $80. At the same time the rate of a registration fee depends on the tonnage of a ship in a majority of countries. So, in Panama all foreign service vessels must pay a registration or enrollment fee according to the following scale: vessels up to 2000 GRT – Us$500.00, vessels of more than 2000 GRT and up to 5000 GRT – Us$2000.00.
Many countries release ships, sailing under their flags, from taxes and fees, but determine just an annual tax, the rate of which usually also depends on a ship’s tonnage. For instance, a ship in Panama is charged with the annual tax at the rate of $0,10 per net ton.
Besides afore-mentioned registration fee and annual tax vessels in Panama are obliged to pay the annual inspection fee and an annual investigation of accidents and participation of the administration in international conferences and treaties fee (are paid on the rates depending on the category of a ship – passenger, cargo, tanker - and its tonnage), and also the annual consular fee.
The principal advantage of trade fleet’s registration in countries of a flag of convenience is the fact that such vessels are released from payment of a profit tax from the commercial activity performing by them. The Republic of Belarus doesn’t provide such a privilege – a ship owner must pay the profit tax at the rate of 24% - that significantly predetermines the unwillingness of ship owners to carry out economical activity under the State flag of the Republic of Belarus. The positive moment, however, is the existence of a range of international agreements on avoiding of double taxation and prevention of tax evasion concerning taxes on incomes and property, which are concluded between Belarus and other states.
Belarusian legislation has also released ship owners from payment of the VAT, the tax on property, various taxes and fees, determined depending on the tonnage of a sea vessel. Benefits on offshore charge come into effect here as well.
It’s important to have in view that the procedure of a ship registration and the specific lists of levied taxes differ from those used in other countries. What concern Belarus – the State Register is empty as yet and appearance of the cherished records depends on improvement of the taxation scheme of sea vessels, and above all, through implementation of privileges regarding the payment of a profit tax.
Wishing successful competition in the taxation sphere…
Fidan Medjidova, Dicsa (Belarus)