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Maritime Entities

Law Decree No.7 of February 10, 1998, created the Maritime Authority of Panama, which is the supreme maritime authority of the Republic of Panama, in order to exercise the rights and comply with the responsibilities of the Estate of Panama within the frame of the United Nations Convention on Maritime Law of 1982, and other laws and regulations in force.

Among its functions are the following:

  • • To manage, promote, regulate, project and execute the strategies, norms, plans and programs that are related to the operation and development of the Maritime Sector.
  • • To promote, coordinate and execute the National Maritime Strategy.
  • • To manage the registration of ships in Panama.
  • • To propose and coordinate the plans for development of the national port system, to exploit and operate the port services and to oversee those that do not operate directly.
  • • To safeguard the national interests in the maritime spaces and internal waters.
  • • To assure compliance with the norms in force regarding the staffing, training, qualifications and guardianship of sea people.
  • • To oversee strict compliance with international treaties, agreements and instruments in maritime issues ratified by Panama.
  • • To keep updated the system of signaling and navigation aids in order to assure the safe transit of ships through the maritime spaces of Panama.

The Republic of Panama has one of the more prominent merchant navies of the world; its registration system was improved with the issuance of Law 57 of 2008, which regulates the Merchant Navy and the Registration of Vessels in Panama, which is based in the system of open registry. From its creation, the Panamanian Registry of vessels has included vessels that belong to nationals and foreigners without distinguishing among them, as long as they comply with the requisites demanded by Law, emphasizing the clauses related to the managing of vessels, security control standards as well as pollution, technical criteria and fiscal issues.

The Panamanian Open Registry is one of the most responsible in the world due to the security of lives in the sea, the protection of maritime environment and the economic welfare of the owners of these ships, by virtue of a series of international norms, protocols and conventions of which Panama has been signatory.

Along with that, the promulgation of Law 55 of August 6, 2008 on Maritime Commerce facilitates even further this type of commerce with the regulation of the different types of contracts on maritime issues such as charter and insurance, among others.

Among the functions of the Merchant Navy we may highlight the following:

  • • To dictate the regulations, norms and technical or administrative procedures for registration and issuance of the technical documentation of ships.
  • • To delegate in civil servants of that General Directorate the authority to execute actions related to the registration and issuance of the technical documents of ships, as well as delegating such authority in the corresponding Consuls, who are authorized to carry out actions related to the provisional registration of ships subjected to the stipulations of the Law.
  • • To propose and recommend the taxes, rates and other charges that must be paid for the vessels registered in the National Merchant Navy, as well as to collect and/or to supervise the collection of taxes, rates, duties and other obligations that vessels are obliged to pay.
  • • To ensure that the revenues, accrued from the payments of rates and duties of the vessels registered in the Panamanian registry are incorporated in the budget in order to accomplish the purposes for which they were created.
  • • To oversee and to credit the collected sums and remittances related to the National Merchant Navy made by staff of the Maritime Authority of Panama, by Panamanian Consuls and by authorized offices.
  • • To declare without effect the debits applied by the consuls and civil servants responsible for management of the Maritime Authority of Panama, taking into consideration the existing proofs and the motives that caused such actions, subjected to the approval of the General Comptroller’s Office of the Republic.
  • • To approve or deny the requests for special discounts, over taxes, rates, duties of registration of vessels, cancelation of surcharges and interests and other collections that the vessels registered or to be registered in the National Merchant Navy must pay; likewise, applications for credits due to payments in excess or other concepts related to these vessels, subjected to the conditions and limitations established by Law.
  • • To oversee the strict compliance with, and effective application of the Panamanian legal norms, international conventions, codes or guidelines on maritime security, prevention of pollution and maritime protection of vessels.
  • • To carry out the investigations on maritime accidents and spillages or pollution involving Panamanian vessels wherever they are located or vessels of any nationality in the jurisdictional waters of the State.
  • • To fine or penalize whoever infringes legal norms or regulations related to the National Merchant Navy.
  • • To establish procedures for the inspections of Panamanian ships for an appropriate compliance with the norms on security, prevention of environmental pollution and other obligations required by law.


The Panama Port System is composed of 26 ports of which 19 are managed by the Maritime Authority of Panama through the General Directorate of Ports and Auxiliary Maritime Industries, basically small ports that service international and cabotage transport. The remaining seven ports are managed and run by private companies that develop their activities under the supervision of the abovementioned General Directorate, through the harbormaster’s office located in the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Are characterized by the specific nature of their businesses which are carried out around determined items and the activities derived from these. Within this category there are fruit ports, sugar ports, fishing ports and oil terminals.

The ports of general cargo, category to which belong 57% of the ports that compose the National Port System, may be divided in two groups: foreign trade and cabotage (internal trade).

At present these port terminals (Balboa and Cristobal), are managed by the Panama Ports Company, member of the group Hutchinson Port Holding (HPH). Likewise, new ports have been built, they are run and managed by companies of the private sector, such as Evergreen which is in charge of the Colon Container Terminal (CCT), Petroterminales de Panamá which runs and operates the ports of Charco Azul, in Chiriquí and Chiriquí Grande, located in the Province of Bocas del Toro; Manzanillo International Terminal (MIT), operated by Stevedoring Services of America (SSA). Panama is under way of becoming the main center for container transshipment of Latin America and the Caribbean, specifically in the area of Coco Solo Norte, where there is a sustained and increasing port development.

The maritime development of Coco Solo Norte, a former naval base of the U.S. Army in the Province of Colon, is supported by a complete infrastructure of transportation, interconnected through ports, airports, railroad and highway. This area adjoins the Colon Free Zone, the largest commercial area of the Western Hemisphere, where the main export and import companies have settled locations as well as embarkation companies and ship-owners.

The Panamanian ports are a good investment option due to the main and secondary advantages obtained, among them:

  • • Loading and unloading facilities
  • • Storage, transshipment
  • • Consolidation
  • • Storage and distribution of loose cargo
  • • Rent, repair and storage of containers
  • • Insurances over cargo
  • • Cleaning and repair of containers
  • • Port, financial and cruise management
  • • Management of container terminals and processing areas
  • • Credit letters, cargo survey through draught