maritime law


April 11, 2016



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Home to one of the biggest ports in the world, the UAE is an integral shipping hub in the global trading ecosystem. While shipping law can be a complicated area of the legal framework given competing jurisdictions involved in the international arena, the UAE has its own laws for sorting out maritime disputes.

In the case of maritime debt, Law 26/1981 of the UAE Federal Maritime Law (FML) allows for a right of arrest as a so-called "provisional relief". While a list of what constitutes a "maritime debt" can be found in Article 115 of the FML, there are several grounds that must be made out.

Once an application is made to the Civil Court, which has jurisdiction over the ports, a plaintiff must show evidence of a maritime debt. The plaintiff may also be asked to provide a bank guarantee as a form of security.

Article 115/2 of the FML states as follows:

“The expression “maritime debt” shall mean a claim in respect of a right arising from any of the following causes: 

  1. Damages caused by the vessel by reason of a collision or otherwise. 

  2. Loss of life or personal injuries caused by the vessel and arising out of the use thereof. 

  3. Assistance and salvage. 

  4. Contracts related to the use or exploitation of the vessel under a charter contract or otherwise. 

  5. Contracts related to the carriage of goods under a charter contract, bill of lading, or other documents. 

  6. Loss or damage of goods or belongings carried onboard the vessel. 

  7. Common average. 

  8. Towage or piloting of the vessel. 

  9. Supplies of products or equipment necessary for the use or maintenance of the vessel, in any location of supply whatsoever. 

  10. Construction, repair or fitting of the vessel, and costs the present thereof in docks. 

  11. Sums spent by the master, shippers, charterers or agents on account of the vessel or on account of the owner thereof. 

  12. Wages of the master, officers and crew, and other persons working onboard the vessel under a contract of maritime employment. 

  13. A dispute of ownership of the vessel. 

  14. A dispute pertaining to the common ownership of the vessel, to the possession or use thereof, or to the right to the profits arising from the use thereof. 

  15. A maritime mortgage.”

Matters of Jurisdiction

While the courts may require proof from the port that the defendant in a case is both the owner of the vessel and that the vessel is harboured inside the port limits, the civil court will be able to adjudicate on a claim even if the vessel is not flying a UAE flag. The same applies to adjudicating cases against foreign nationals who do not reside in the UAE, as stipulated by the Civil Procedure Code 1992.

The UAE is not a party to any international shipping conventions, so only the law of the land will apply in such a case - while different port authorities in the respective emirates have also been conferred with the power of arrest and detention in such circumstances. The FML also provides legal redress in cases of shipping collisions.

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