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Concerns raised over Belize registry's future

Concerns raised over Belize registry's future
The recent nationalisation by the government of Belize of the Ship Registry (International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize - IMMARBE) and the International Business Corporations Register, both concessions given by the government in 1991 to Belize International Services Limited (BISL), has raised some concern about the judicial security in that small Central American country and the future efficiency of the open registry. 

Whether the Belizean government is settling the balance of a long and harsh relationship with one of the BISL ultimate shareholders, Lord Michael Ashcroft, former Deputy Chairman of the British Conservative Party, or it intends to fill its empty coffers, the result is the same.

"BISL, at great expense and effort, created a thriving offshore and shipping services industry in Belize which had hitherto not existed. BISL has been professionally and competently managing these two Registries, under valid, lawful, binding and enforceable contracts since 1991, to the mutual benefit of BISL and the Government of Belize on behalf of the people of Belize. BISL has a legally enforceable contractual right to operate and manage these two Registries on behalf of the Government of Belize until June 2020," said a BISL statement.

According to BISL, "the illegal decision by the Government to take over the Registries is unmerited and without justification. BISL has been a good, upstanding corporate citizen of Belize and both BISL and the Government and people of Belize have benefited from a long and professional relationship. The Government will become liable to BISL for an amount estimated to be in excess of $60M", as BISL plans to sue the Belizean government.

Last year, Belize defaulted on its $550m 'superbond' due in 2015. After a long negotiation with its creditors, Belize finally reached an agreement in February of this year and it is not clear if this 'nationalisation' will have further implications on Belize's debt.

Over the last 22 years, both Registries under the management and direction of BISL have made significant contributions to Belize and its people. For the Ship Registry alone, which was created in 1991, some 7,000 vessels were registered; Today Belize has the sixth largest vessel fleet in the world by number of ships with 914 ships currently active, with 90 IBCR Registered Agents and 64 IMMARBE Deputy Registrars. Hundreds of people employed directly by the Registries, resident agents and deputy registrars in Belize. "BISL intends to vigorously defend its contractual rights and pursue its claim for damages to the highest level of the legal system in Belize and will exercise all options available to it to vindicate its rights", BISL said in its statement.

IMMARBE has been present along those years on the Asian market where the 50% of its fleet trades attending international maritime exhibitions and conferences, more recently at Singapore's Sea Asia last April. The international shipping community which had followed IMMARBE as a loyal customer can only hope it will remain faithful to its motto and stays 'the friendly flag of quality', under the Belize government's management.

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