The registration of seagoing vessels under the new Shipping Code

by Pol Deketelaere
The regulations concerning the registration of seagoing vessels will be included in the new Shipping Code. The new Shipping Code determines, among other things, the conditions for registration and the consequences thereof. Leeward summarizes the most important provisions and changes.


The regulations on the registration of seagoing vessels will be included in the new Maritime Code, more specifically under Title 2 - Chapter 1.

Article of the Shipping Code stipulates that a seagoing vessel may only sail under the Belgian flag if it is registered in the Belgian Register of Seagoing Vessels.

When the seagoing vessel is registered in the Belgian register of seagoing vessels, the seagoing vessel is entitled and also obliged to fly the Belgian flag.

The captain of the ship must at all times be able to prove the right to fly this flag. He does this by submitting a certificate of registration.

The certificate of registration replaces the old sea letter. The registration certificate confirms that the ship meets the conditions for registration (with the FPS Finance) and the safety conditions (with the FPS Mobility and Transport).

As a result of the integration of registration with the DG Shipping, this is split into a certificate of registration and a certificate of soundness.

The certificate of registration

The certificate of registration is issued immediately after registration and entitles the ship to fly the Belgian flag.

One of the conditions for registration in the Belgian Shipping Register is that the ship's home port is in Belgium. The legislator has opted that the choice and modification of the home port will no longer have to be submitted for approval, but that there will be a legal obligation to choose the home port in Belgium. In principle, any Belgian city or sub-municipality is eligible as a home port, and it is not necessary for the city to have a physical port. A home port outside Belgium will not be accepted and will result in the refusal of registration.

The further conditions for registration in the Belgian shipping register will be determined by the King.

The new shipping code also replaces the (outdated) Belgian nationality requirement for captains. From now on, the command of a registered Belgian seagoing vessel may be given to persons with the nationality of a member state of the European Economic Area.

The deletion of the registration of a seagoing vessel can be done at the request of the registered owner or ex officio. The ex-officio decommitment takes place after the decay, scrapping or permanent unsuitability of the vessel, after a timelimit of six months, or when the conditions for registration are no longer met.

New: if "the seagoing vessel has been taken by pirates or enemies", the registration of the vessel can no longer be struck off ex officio. After all, the legislator considered it appropriate that a temporarily captured vessel can continue to benefit from the Belgian laws and authorities. An additional positive consequence of the deletion of the possibility of deletion in this hypothesis is that the owner does not have to go through the registration procedure again when he is back in possession of his ship.

The new Shipping Code also amends the (administrative) procedure for registering Belgian seagoing vessels in a foreign hull chartering register.

This procedure will be simplified; the shipowner will no longer have to address two authorities, but only the Belgian Register of Shipping. The Belgian Ship Register will check whether the conditions are met, may grant permission, and will register the bareboat charter when the legal conditions are met.

The conditions for an entry in the foreign bareboat chartering register have also been reworked in the new Shipping Code. The permission for an entry in the foreign bareboat chartering register is only granted if:

1) The bareboat charter agreement contains the legally required entries (including a prohibition to transfer the hire and a prohibition to subrogate, without the consent of mortgage creditors).

2) Each mortgage creditor expressly consents to the bareboat charter; and

(3) The legislation of the State of bareboat chartering meets certain conditions (e.g. with regard to its bareboat charter register, and the ownership of the vessel).

When the ship is registered in the foreign bareboat charter register, the right to fly the Belgian flag is suspended for the duration of the bareboat charter. Upon dissolution of the bareboat charter contract, the obligation to fly the Belgian flag will revive.

Foreign sea-going vessels can in turn also be registered in the Belgian bareboat charter register. These ships are obliged to fly the Belgian flag during the period of the bareboat charter and must have a certificate of registration on board.

The certificate of soundness

In addition to the certificate of registration, the new shipping code introduces the certificate of soundness. The certificate of reliability is issued by the Shipping Inspectorate and serves as confirmation that the seagoing vessel complies with all legal and regulatory requirements and that the vessel is in a safe condition.

The certificate of reliability therefore constitutes a rebuttable presumption of the state of safety at the time of the inspection of the seagoing vessel.

There is also the possibility of obtaining a provisional certificate of soundness, in particular when a seagoing vessel is brought under the Belgian flag abroad and the Shipping Inspectorate is unable to provide a certificate of soundness. A provisional certificate of soundness can therefore be issued without the Shipping Inspectorate being able to go on board, so that there are no economic disadvantages due to the immobilization of the seagoing vessel. This provisional certificate can be issued subject to a favourable report from a recognised organisation.

The presumption that the seagoing vessel complies with all regulations and is in a state of safety no longer holds if the seagoing vessel has suffered heavy damage or has undergone a substantial alteration. In such a case the certificate of soundness shall be suspended by operation of law and may only be revalidated by the Shipping Inspectorate.

If a Belgian seagoing vessel has sustained damage, or is involved in an incident which gives rise to the suspicion that the vessel has sustained damage and this seagoing vessel subsequently calls a port, the voyage may not be continued until the captain has contacted the ship's inspectors to report the damage and receive their instructions. If the ship's inspectors consider that the damage need not be repaired immediately, they shall issue a written declaration to the effect that the voyage may be continued without objection under the conditions laid down therein.

Should you have any further questions in this respect, please do not hesitate to contact us.




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