The Minister of Infrastructure Development, the Honourable Stanley Sofu, has announced a major step in the reform of the maritime sector of Solomon Islands.

The reform is scheduled to take place on July 1, 2010, when the Marine Division of the Ministry of Infrastructure Development will be transformed into the Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Administration (SIMSA).

SIMSA is being created and empowered under the Maritime Safety Administration Act 2009. Extensive preparatory work for the establishment of SIMSA has been undertaken by the Marine Department and the Ministry of Infrastructure Development since June 2009, supported by the Asian Development Bank and the European Commission.

The main focus of the changes is to give clear responsibility for meeting Solomon Islands' obligations under a range of international conventions. A comprehensive analysis and revision of the fees and charges will be applied by SIMSA to both domestic and foreign vessels.

Underpinning all of these reforms is a comprehensive law reform agenda including regulations under the Shipping Act 1998 and the more recent Maritime Safety Administration Act 2009.

The new regulations, which have been passed by Cabinet and will become law on 1 July, will form the basis of SIMSA's regulatory authority and include:

-Shipping (Registration) Regulations for all matters concerning the registration of vessels, and of the various interests in vessels, by ownership or through marine mortgages. The regulations also provide for the first time protection of the rights of Solomon Island seafarers who travel overseas to bring vessels to the Solomon Islands for registration.

-Shipping (Navigation Aids) Regulations for the placement, maintenance and operation of navigation aids, and revised light dues to ensure sufficient revenues from domestic and foreign vessels to cover the cost of maintaining marine navigational aids. A new network of lights and buoys has been constructed under recent EU projects, and the priority now is to ensure that new laws adequately provide for their protection and upkeep, and to expand the network of lights in due course.

-Other new Regulations will apply a system of pilot certification, and regulatory controls over research vessels which operate in Solomon Island waters.

-Revised Regulations have been prepared to apply all aspects of the Convention on Seafarer Training, Certification and Watch keeping (STCW) and to the training, certification and engagement of seafarers in Solomon Islands.

-Other new and amended regulations will follow later this year, with emphasis on some much needed regulation of small craft and in relation to marine pollution.

In its new guise as SIMSA, the Marine Department will be re-invigorated and extensively empowered to enforce these crucial arrangements, and to play its part in protecting the maritime sector and the marine environment in the South Pacific region. The need to achieve compliance with the full range of applicable international and regional maritime conventions and agreements is a key driver for this reform process.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Infrastructure Development, Mr John Ta'aru said that, "the formation of SIMSA is an important step for Solomon Islands, addressing the urgent need for better regulation and safety of domestic vessels."

"The ongoing legislative reform and new legal framework will put the nation in the forefront of maritime legislation in the Pacific Region."

Source: Press Release, Government Communication Unit