Background and Establishment
The Maritime Authority of Jamaica (MAJ) was established on January 1, 1999, under the Shipping Act 1998 with principal objects to develop shipping and regulate matters pertaining to merchant ships and seafarers.
Prior to the passage of the Shipping Act, maritime activities in Jamaica were governed by UK Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 and implemented by several government entities such as Customs, in the case of ship registration, wreck and salvage and crew issues and the Marine Board for safety of vessels, and casualty investigation via the Harbours Act. The Ministry of Agriculture also had (and still does) some responsibilities relating to the registration of fishing vessels while the Certification of seafarers for home trade was also the purview of the Marine Board. Thus, diverse laws governed shipping activities, largely archaic, and diverse agencies attempted to implement them as secondary duties.
This distribution of responsibilities for maritime activities was typical of most British Commonwealth countries before the enactment of post-independence legislation.
Despite the recognition of the problems faced by a modern and thriving shipping industry operating under archaic laws with no central administrative body to provide the definition and increase the credibility of Jamaica as a maritime nation, it took over 20 years for modern legislation to be passed – in the form of the Shipping Act 1998. And the impetus came from the international shipping community in the form of the revision of the international maritime convention which governs the training and certification of seafarers (STCW). The amendments to the convention required countries to demonstrate to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and by extension, the international shipping community that they are able to effectively implement the convention. To do this country were required to submit to IMO, by August 1, 1998, its laws, and procedures and identify the institution that had responsibility for administering the convention. Those countries that successfully demonstrated to the IMO their ability to effectively implement the convention would be published on “White List”.
It is instructive to note that what precipitated the revision of the STCW Convention and other conventions since this time, was the frequency of marine accidents that were attributable to human error and which caused heavy losses of life and property and created massive environmental degradation from oil spills. The international industry was becoming increasingly intolerant of countries that were not deemed to be fulfilling their responsibilities for maritime safety and marine pollution prevention.
Thus, non-appearance on the “White list” could have fostered the perception that Jamaica’s maritime sector is not well administered and thus its activities sub-standard. This would have had a negative impact on our cruise shipping, transhipment and seafarer training activities, which in turn would impact employment and foreign exchange generation.
The enactment of modern shipping legislation represented a critical step in rationalizing the maritime regulatory and administrative framework in order to consolidate the Island’s achievements so far, in areas such as maritime training, container transhipment and cruise shipping and to position itself internationally for further development as a maritime centre.