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Bertrand Smith - laying the foundation for a modern legal framework for Jamaica's shipping sector

Published:Tuesday | August 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Bertrand Smith - Contributed

It was an opportunity of a lifetime that steered his professional success.

Bertrand Smith, director, legal affairs at the Maritime Authority of Jamaica (MAJ), known to most persons as 'Bert', has been in the maritime industry for more than 20 years and has made it his life's career. But it wasn't always in his plans. In fact, it was a family friend, the late Ian Cross, who had worked at Port Cold Limited which owned and operated the "M/V Corah Ann" and the "M/V Hermenia", who introduced him to shipping.

Smith had just completed his studies at Norman Manley Law School when Cross encouraged him to attend the World Maritime University (WMU) in Sweden to pursue maritime law and policy.

Young Smith had no knowledge or peculiar interest in maritime law or shipping at the time but saw it as an opportunity to experience a different culture. He applied to the WMU and was accepted. He received a full scholarship from the Canadian International Development Agency and started his journey to success.

"It was eye-opening and interesting," Smith said of his time at the WMU. "I learned all about maritime law and policy, maritime administration, ports, and the whole gamut of shipping." His scholarship afforded him field trips to Germany, Norway, the United States, as well as Canada, where he received on-the-job training.

On his return to Jamaica, he applied to the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) where there was a job opening for a legal officer. There, he had the opportunity to work with Dr Carrol Pickersgill, attorney-at-law for the PAJ, and the late Lucien Rattray, who he credits for his success.

When the Maritime Authority of Jamaica was established in 1999, he was seconded to the Authority as the director of legal affairs. Two years later, he became a full-time member of the team. The MAJ is a statutory arm of the Government of Jamaica, responsible for the regulation and development of shipping and administers the Jamaica Ship Registry (JSR) and the recently launched Mega Yacht Registry. The JSR administers the registration of all types of ships, including container ships, bulk carriers, cruise ships and yachts, most of which operate outside of Jamaica.

Describing shipping as a dynamic industry, Smith said, "there's no week, there's no day that is the same especially when you're operating a ship registry."

He recalls that in the early days, having clients of the JSR in various countries and different time zones meant he would have to come to work at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. to facilitate the registration of a ship and mortgage which followed the sale and purchase of a ship or to deal with a casualty or wrongful arrest of a Jamaican ship in another part of the world. This, he said, meant he had to be on the ball at all times to ensure that he gave sound legal advice quickly. "This is one of the reasons I have stayed in shipping," Smith said.

Though much has been done in the local industry, Smith said that shipping in Jamaica is still growing and there's a lot more work to do. "I feel like I'm laying the foundation in terms of the legislative and treaty framework for Jamaica to be a successful and competitive player in the global shipping industry," he said. He added that more lawyers need to become au fait with maritime law, especially as Jamaica moves to implement the logistics hub initiative.

Of his time in the industry, Smith said he has been privileged to represent Jamaica at regional and international fora, including being the country's delegate to the Legal Committee of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and, more recently, being selected to represent the region at the Maritime Public Leaders Forum in Singapore, last September. He continues to contribute to the development of treaty law and maritime legislation in Jamaica and gives much credit for his achievements to the small, but committed team at the Maritime Authority.

The son of a minister of religion and a retired principal, Smith is a practising Christian who teaches Sunday school. Family is important to him and so he makes special time for his wife, Sharon, who was his classmate at law school, and their two children Hannah and Johnathon.

The past Wolmer's Boys head boy has always enjoyed sports having represented his high school alma mater in cricket, track and badminton. He also represented the University of West Indies - Cave Hill campus, in track and football during inter-campus games. Now, however, he enjoys watching football and cricket.

Smith serves his community as a member of the Lions Club of Mona of which he is a past president, and lectures in maritime law at the Caribbean Maritime Institute.

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