Merchant

For the purpose of this section the ownership of a British vessel will be used as the example. A British ship is notionally divided into 64 parts or shares, and this is provided for in section 5 of The Merchant Shipping Act 1894.  One person may own all the shares or several persons may own the shares between them, either as joint tenants or tenants in common. Where more than one party (i.e. a person or a corporation) owns one single part, they must be regarded as joint tenants of the undivided interest and may not be part owners of separate fractions. The ownership of a British ship must be registered.  The usual practice in commercial life is for the individual co-owners to form a limited liability company in whose name the ownership of the ship will be registered.  Thus, only the name of the corporation will appear on the registry.  Limited liability creates a corporate ‘veil’ between the liability of the company and the actual persons who own the company.  This, of course, is the basic premise of corporate liability and without the limited liability concept provided for by incorporation, there would be little capital venture. It is possible, however, to at times persuade the courts to ‘lift’ this corporate veil and declare the actual persons (who own the limited company) liable where the corporate entity is unable for some reason to meet its liability.  The veil will be lifted where the company was set up as a sham and with the sole aim of evasion of liability, or where there is strong evidence of fraud.  It should be noted that the courts will only be persuaded to lift the veil in extreme cases. Today, the relevant legislation which provides for the division of 64 shares is the Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Regulations 1993 (which came into force on 21st March, 1994).  The Merchant Shipping Acts 1894 to 1994 have been consolidated by the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 (which came into force on 1st January 1996).  The 1993 Regulations are, however, still in force. Minor amendments to the 1993 Regulations were made by the Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) (Amendment) Regulations 1994.