Gitanjali Patel

Gitanjali Patel 

Posted Monday January 20, 2014

Open seas: Ship registration information worldwide

Open seas: Ship registration information worldwide

Following on from our previous blog post on the subject of open ship data, we wanted to look more deeply at how it is used effectively in investigations. Talking to our customers, they indicated that the types of information they found themselves wanting most were:

  1. ship owner and operator information
  2. financial information and movements (assets and acquisitions)
  3. involvement in environmental issues or accidents

With this in mind, we conducted a worldwide review of availability of online ship data. This post summarises our findings. We detail:

  1. different sources of ship data available
  2. what specific information is available and how to search it
  3. barriers to open source ship data

Information availability worldwide

We started by creating the map below, showing information availability worldwide; green represents the 69 countries where high-level information about ships is published online (though some may require registering for a user account). For the countries marked red we did not identify any significant online sources of ship information.

What the coverage map seems to show is that investigations relying on information on ships are going to be limited to just under a third of the 217 countries covered. But is this really the case? Although it gives the impression that investigators will have a difficult time in the Middle East and Africa, the international nature of the shipping industry, where ships are frequently registered under foreign flags (see our previous blog post), means that where a ship is registered has little or nothing to do with who actually owns or operates it. The top 10 largest flag states (see below) together account for over 70% of the world’s deadweight tonnage, so in reality these flag states are crucial information sources.

We looked at what information is available from these large flag states in order to see what investigators can find.

Data available in the ten largest flag states


Sources of ship information are available in 8 out of the 10 largest flag states, with only the Bahamas and Malta posing a problem. But is this data useful for investigations?

We compared what we found with our customers’ information wishlist (owner and company information/financial information and movements/involvement in environmental issues or accidents). In summary:

  • Most sources offered owner and company information
  • No source of ship information that we examined offered any explicit details about finances
  • The USA is the only country that had any information available about a ship’s involvement in accidents or conflicts with the environment

Types of Ship Data Available

We categorised sources of ship information into six basic types: Shipping registries, schedules, blacklists, certificate verification services, lists of shipping agents, and other types.

Shipping Registries - 29

We started by reviewing countries which publish their shipping registry online, of which there are 29 worldwide. Shipping registries offer the greatest range of data, and online registries often allow users to search their records by more than one attribute. The table below breaks down the information available from each of the registries in each of the countries surveyed.

Breakdown of Data Available from the Shipping Registries

Shipping registries You can also view and download a bigger version of this table

The table above shows that:

  • 18 of the 29 registries provide ship ownership details
  • 8 offer data on authorised representatives/managers
  • 4 have data on ship operators
  • 10 provide details about shipbuilders The richness of this data in some jurisdictions is a valuable resource for establishing links in an investigation. Users should note, however, that the ability to find this information can be limited by the features built into the search tools on each site.

The attributes most useful to our customers are ship name and ship owner and IMO. The following registries are searchable by these properties:


Although Portugal doesn’t provide as convenient a search tool as many of the other registries, dogged investigators will be able to find a great deal of useful data, with 15 of the 24 attributes in the table above published in their records.

Other Types of Ship Data

Although many countries do not have an online shipping registry, ownership information can be found in other types of source. Often it requires more painstaking work to locate the same information in these sources. We have summarised our findings below.

Shipping Schedules - 18

Shipping schedules are of 3 main types:

  • Lists of ships in port
  • Vessel schedules
  • Lists of expected ships

We found that for all these sources we were able to obtain the name of the vessel and its agent. Often, however, the data is limited to the present week. Brunei‘s Ports Department is one of the few that has an archive but even then its data for 2010 is for just one day.

Online shipping schedules also often lack a search function. Only 4 of the sources we looked at had one and Gibraltar was the only one that reliably worked and was searchable by the name of the ship.

Certificate Verification Search - 10

Certificate Verification Searches can be extremely useful as they allow you to verify whether the owner of the ship actually holds a license. All 10 of the sources we looked at had a search function and 5 supported searches by the name of the vessel or the owner. The information provided is usually quite detailed. IMMARBE (the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize), for example, supports a search by owner name and offers information including registration details and date of birth:


Blacklists - 6

We found blacklists for 6 countries; these consist of lists of suspended or withdrawn ships where they have not complied with regulations. We found that ownership details were always provided, though the availability of further data was variable. Cambodia’s International Ship Registry is an interesting case as it lists the names and ranks of fraudulent Myanmarese seafarers (but bears no mention of similar nationals). Japan’s registry was the only one that offered a search function for this type of information.

Lists of shipping agents - 6

We located 6 lists of shipping agents. The information offered across these sources was fairly uniform, with each listing certified shipping agencies and contact details. Search tools for these sources were rare. In addition to certified agencies, Luxembourg also provided a list of accredited managers.

Barriers to free information access

Though some countries like Germany, Croatia and the US have open, extensive and thorough shipping records, some countries presented a more of a challenge to access information. We have listed some examples below:

  • Limited dates (Portugal, for example, has a registry of ships from 2003-2012; Greece only has a register for 2012)
  • Limited data (Argentina only has a registry for the state of Entre Rios)
  • Access restrictions (Estonia and South Korea both have registries, but are only accessible with login details).
  • Searches only possible with an official number (Mainly for certificate verification checks. Kiribati, for example, is only searchable with an official number and Liberia requires you to have a tracking ID)
  • Broken sites (Advertised online services often did not lead to functioning sites in practice: Papua New Guinea’s ship register search doesn’t seem to work and therefore has not been included)


The information landscape for ship information is vast and so we tried to shed some light on where information can be found and how to narrow in on the useful bits. As with most types of open data, we are limited by how it is made available i.e. the scope of data on the website, the maintenance of the site, and the search functionality for the information.

Openly available information about ships can provide valuable information for investigators, and it appears that more and more data is gradually becoming available online. We will continue to track the sector and include it within the Arachnys platform.

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