National Congress on Maritime Law: a thorough analysis of the main issues facing the sector.

The conference, organised by  the Asociación Española de Derecho Marítimo (Spanish Maritime Law Association)on 12 and 13 June in Madrid, was well received by more than one hundred professionals from the maritime sector who attended and had the chance to discuss the main topics of their day-to-day work.

Over the two days of the conference the experts, in an open conversation with the participants, clearly set out those trends in the maritime, transport and insurance sectors, which will be of importance in the medium and long-term.

Tax lease

At the opening roundtable, the sector’s concerns were made clear as to the decision, possibly imminent, to be taken by Europe on the possible return of funds received by ship-owners and shipyards under the previous tax lease scheme. What cannot be ignored is that 87,000 jobs are at stake.

There is, it seems, agreement that Europe will hand out some form of  “punishment” to Spain for the previous tax regime, which has been denounced as constituting state aid, but there is confidence that that the decision will not require the repayment of such aid.

Equally, it was made clear that the maritime construction sector in Spain is noted for its quality, especially in the off-shore sector. Spanish shipyards build vessels to order, as opposed to mass-production, and this extra quality and exclusivity is highly important for the marketing of the Spanish brand.

International Labour Organization Convention

By 20 August 2013 almost all Spanish flagged ships will require to be certified under the ILO convention. This process requires a great deal of cooperation between the sector and the public administration (both the Ministerio de Trabajo (Ministry of Employment) and Ministerio de Fomento (Ministry for Development), a task that is being carried out “satisfactorily”, according to the professionals in the sector.

It should be remembered that the competent authority for ILO purposes for the issuance of certificates is the Dirección General de la Marina Mercante DGMM (General Directorate of Merchant Shipping). Two certificates are required: the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance, Part I, issued by the DGMM, and Part II, completed by the ship-owner.

Opinion was unanimous that the Convention’s entrance into force is positive, to the extent that it aims to provide decent working conditions for seafarers and supports healthy competition between ship-owners (“social dumping”).

Loading and unloading operations

The roundtable focused on discussion of the current regime of shipping agent responsibilities, as well as an analysis of their regulation under the future Ley de Navegación Marítima (Maritime Shipping Law).

ANESCO highlighted the urgent need for the draft legislation to be approved and for the role of the shipping agent and their responsibilities to be clearly regulated.

The roundtable also looked at how Sociedades de Estiba (SAGEB) (Stevedoring Companies) work in practice, the situation of access to the loading/unloading market for those companies who are not members of the SAGEB, their legal nature, as well as labour exchanges.

The discussion also covered the sector’s concerns for the lack of flexibility in port concessions. It was stressed that in the current crisis it would be advisable to adapt to the needs of the market.

Procedural matters

The main discussion related to what Maritime Law is for the purposes of the jurisdiction of the Mercantile courts or the Courts of First Instance.

On this regard, a certain amount of “legal insecurity” was noted, essentially in those matters relating to recreational vessels.

Additionally, the roundtable dealt with the peculiarities of the execution of maritime loans in insolvency proceedings, as well as the procedural route and jurisdiction that apply where a ship-owner has limited liability. That fact is that Spanish courts have little experience with the constitution of limited liability funds.

Charter Contracts

The auditorium once again noted the importance of bringing into law as soon as possible the Maritime Shipping Law; this time in relation to charter contracts for the use of vessels. The aim would be to have applicable domestic law and thus avoid excessive recourse to English Law.

Maritime Insurance

The experts analysed the distinct insurance products on the market and specifically goods insurance, P&I insurance and construction and repair insurance.

It was clear that the insurance sector is also being affected by the crisis, although in general things appear to be improving, given the greater volume of cargo being moved.

Other topics that garnered great interest and discussion were the issuance of blue cards, as well as the need for greater financial guarantees both where passengers have been killed or injured, and for pollution cases.

There was also an in-depth analysis of the appearance of the English insurance market in the issuance of Spanish policies.