COVID-19 has upended the ways in which business is conducted around the world, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (and other prominent flag jurisdictions) have made necessary changes to accommodate those transactions that traditionally required production of originals or in-person interaction.
Pursuant to the Guideline promulgated by the Republic in April 2020:
- For the limited documents required in original, including a ship mortgage or an application for registration, an electronic document will be accepted as the original until such time as the hard-copy original can be couriered to the Maritime Administrator; and
- The Maritime Administrator will accept electronic notarizations. This may be achieved by scheduling an appointment with a Special Agent or Deputy Commissioner who can witness signatures over video calls or having signatures acknowledged by other legally permissible means. For example, both the State of New York and the State of New Jersey in the United States have implemented methods by which documents can be notarized electronically. If no such options is possible, the Guideline also indicates that with the approval of the Administrator, any lawyer may acknowledge a signature.
In rare circumstances, in addition to notarization, a document may need to be legalized for use in another country. What is commonly known as the Apostille Convention has specified the methods by which a document issued in one country may be certified for legal purposes in other countries signatory to the Convention.
It does not presently seem possible to obtain an Apostille in the State of New York by an in-person appointment, given the current government office closure, and it is unclear whether that could be accommodated by mail (which at any rate might prove to be a lengthy process). For transactions that have a connection to the Marshall Islands (either through the vessel or the owner), however, the Republic has a procedure available under its law for an instrument (such as a bill of sale) to be “Apostilled” for use in another country.
Seward & Kissel LLP has an active Marshall Islands law practice in which three Marshall Islands-qualified attorneys and other professionals under their supervision regularly advise on Marshall Islands matters related to shipping and other industries. Please feel free to contact any of us on Marshall Islands legal issues.
Seward & Kissel has established a COVID-19 Resource Center on our web site to access all relevant alerts that we distribute.