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Beneficial Owners, Registered Owners, Charterers - What is Vessel Ownership Data?

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

The Vessel Owner is the actual or registered owner of a vessel, the master or other person responsible for operating a vessel, or any person in navigational control of a vessel.


Vessel ownership data is a key component of corporate responsibility. It enables users to determine who is the registered owner of a given vessel, and also to identify their beneficial owner (where known).


This allows for transparency in shipping operations, as those who are fundamentally responsible for the actions or behaviour of a vessel can be traced. Vessel ownership data may also specify any other parties that have an interest in the ownership of a vessel, such as a charterer or third-party operator (detailed below).


With 240,000+ recorded entities covering up to 7 levels of ownership, vessel ownership databases can exceed 1.7m records


What is vessel ownership data?

Vessel ownership data details and maintains a record of a ship’s owners and is typically broken down into the following categories:


*Please note vessel ownership definitions can vary from supplier to supplier and the list below is not an exhaustive list of those definitions*

Beneficial owner

  • The term ‘beneficial owner’ refers to the natural person(s) who ultimately owns or controls a company, and make the decisions that determine its activities.

Registered owner

  • The registered owner is the legal entity (i.e., company, trust, etc.) that holds title to assets on behalf of some other person or persons.


Charterer

  • Charters are contracts where one party hires another party to use their asset for certain period of time.

Technical Manager

  • A Technical Ship Manager is in charge of ensuring whether the necessary repair works on a ship are being executed properly

Third Party operator

  • Third party operators are entities that operate a vessel on behalf of the owner. This could be a ship manager or freight forwarder, for example.

It is important to note that determining who the beneficial owner is can be difficult. The registered owner may not necessarily be the person with control over how a vessel is operated; they may simply own it outright and have no involvement in its operation or decision-making processes.

It’s also possible that there may not even be one individual considered as beneficial owner – there could be multiple parties involved with varying levels of authority over decisions about how the ship operates, such as charterers and technical managers (who have responsibility for keeping it safe).

The process of collecting information about the owners of a vessel must consider whether any relevant third parties have a controlling interest in or exercise significant influence over the operation of that vessel. This is referred to as “controlling interest” and/or “significant influence.”

Where does it come from? Suppliers receive information from such entities as:

Class societies

Flag states

  • The flag state of a merchant vessel is the jurisdiction under whose laws the vessel is registered or licensed, and is deemed the nationality of the vessel

P&I clubs

  • A P&I club is a mutual insurance association that provides risk pooling, information and representation for its members. Unlike a marine insurance company, which reports to its shareholders, a P&I club reports only to its members.

Ship brokers

  • Specialist intermediaries that work between ship owners and charters and/or facilitating the sale and purchase of ships.

Ship owners/operators

  • Owner or operator a ship to move cargo or passengers. The owner may choose to operate the ship themselves or charter their asset on short-, medium- or long-term bases. That decision is often driven by market conditions.

Like *Vessel data*, the quantity of data they collect will be influenced by the amount and nature of the relationships they have established with these organizations. The quality of their output will be determined by attributes like their domain expertise and quality assurance processes.

How can I use it? Maritime domain awareness

  • Who is operating within your Economic exclusion zone (EEZ)?

KYC & Compliance

  • Understanding who you are doing business with and their relationships to other entities


Target market

  • Who is your target audience?

Business development

  • Are there ownership connections within your target audience? Can they be reached?

Underwriting

  • What is the incident history of other ships under a particular entity's ownership?

How do I access the data? Various suppliers provide direct data feeds, either proprietary or resold.

The benefit of going with a supplier of proprietary data is they tend to have more control over quality assurance and uptime vs resellers who must resolve issues via a 3rd party.


This is particularly important with vessel ownership data if accuracy is of major concern, as you have the option to work with a proprietary supplier to revise records if you have conflicting or new information.


Due to the dynamic nature of shipping and the sheer number of entities involved, it’s a near impossible task for one supplier to have 100% coverage and accuracy and why buyers often opt for multiple sources.

These feeds are typically delivered via API or FTP:

  • API - the delivery mechanism can often be as important as the product it is delivering.

  • FTP/S3 Bucket - a less dynamic but effective way of delivering large data files.

Take the time to speak to the Data Services/Delivery teams to understand the mechanics of their APIs as well as their record of maintaining them i.e. uptime and error management.

How to assess one supplier vs another?

Basic framework:


Degree of detail

  • How many/what levels of ownership do they provide?

A high-level breakdown of ship owners by country may simply require one level whereas a thorough KYC or risk assessment would usually involve all available information.

Field population

  • What is the population % of the fields you require?

Think in relative terms rather than absolute – not all ships have 3rd party operators for example and therefore a blank record could be accurate rather than missing.


Update frequency

How often are the records updated?

  • Assessing historical data is great way to assess a suppliers update frequency and many suppliers will have ownership histories to support this.

Accuracy


How often do they select and display the correct owner?

  • Selecting the latest record does not necessarily mean they have selected the most accurate

  • This can be determined by breadth of sources used and manor in which the records are analysed (For example, if a small ship broker has information contrary to that of the vessel’s flag state and ship and P&I Club, should that record be trusted as the truth?)

Conclusion

Due to the dynamic nature of shipping, vessels are often owned and operated by a range of entitles who are not always straight forward to identify and change often. Good luck!


Without a comprehensive view on vessel ownership, the task of legal, compliance and sales teams alike in identifying who their customers and prospective clients are is nigh on impossible.


While many suppliers dedicate a large amount of resources to maintaining global vessel ownership databases, 100% accuracy is incredibly difficult to maintain and often requires input from multiple sources.


Some have functionalities available whereby users have direct access to analyst teams who can conduct quick turnaround investigations and provide the user with higher degrees of certainty.


Depending on the severity of getting a decision wrong and the time in which you must make it, that’s an option we would encourage users to explore.


We hope this article has been helpful in understanding what vessel data is, where it comes from, how it's used and how to access it.


For more information on vessel data and other maritime data and applications, reach out for free support.

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