A Flag of Choice and Confidence

Launched in the mid-1970s, the Malta Ship Register attributes its growth and success to Malta’s strategic position and long maritime tradition dating back thousands of years. However, the ‘Erika’ disaster in 1999 subjected the Maltese Ship Register to heavy criticism and the Maltese flag was considered by many to be a flag of convenience. This spurred the Maltese Government to adopt the stricter legislative and regulatory procedures, to create the successful and reputable international ship register it is today.


On 12 December 1999, the Erika, a 25 year old single-hull oil tanker flying the Maltese flag broke into two, polluting some four hundred kilometers of French coastline. The damage the incident caused to the environment, fishermen and tourism, made the Erika oil spill one of the foremost environmental disasters in maritime history[1]. The incident stimulated public concern on the safety of maritime transport and highlighted the need of harmonization of the European rules on maritime safety and the control of ships in ports.


The European Commission drew up three packages as a response to the incident. The Erika I package provided an instantaneous response to the inadequacies in the maritime system. It maximized control in ports, monitored the activities of classification societies and provided for the elimination of single-hull tankers.[2] The Erika II package established a European maritime safety agency, greater safety in maritime traffic and more effective prevention of pollution by ships and improvements in the existing schemes concerning liability and compensation for pollution damage. The Erika III package was further promulgated to integrate international standards with Community legislation. The latter were all adopted by Malta, the last package to be transposed by the Member States by the end of January 2012[3].


As a result of these changes, the Malta International Ship Register has weathered the storm into becoming a flag of choice and a flag of confidence with sound multilateral and bilateral relations and active participation in the international shipping fora. It boasts a flag state inspectorate which ensures strict adherence to international standards. In addition, as a result of these changes Maltese ships are afforded preferential treatment in certain ports. The Register’s reputation coupled with attractive fiscal incentives to owners, charterers and financiers have all contributed to making Malta the largest Register in Europe and the seventh largest ship register in the world, boasting 5,830 vessels with a total of 45.6 million tonnes.[4]

Alexia Galea and Dr. M. Clara Borg

[1] European Commission Directorate General for Energy and Transport: <http://lgl.kn/daa00>

[2] Europa Press Release: <http://lgl.kn/e60b5>

[3] European Commission, Mobility and Transport <http://lgl.kn/66f25>

[4] News Release, Ministry for Infrastructure, Transport and Communications: <http://lgl.kn/5420a >