Faced with the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, many EU states are increasingly adopting stringent measures to ensure that the spread of COVID-19 is, to the extent possible, contained. Malta is no exception in this regard, with most sectors having been affected to some extent. The local shipping industry has also been hit with several restrictions in recent weeks.
Maltese law is straightforward in terms of who has a right to arrest and which claims can be secured by means of an arrest. However, while ship arrests are a powerful legal remedy for creditors, they have one major limitation: they are possible only where the targeted vessel actually enters Maltese waters. As such, the legal system has introduced the Section 37 injunction, which provides creditors with an interesting, cost-efficient remedy where a ship arrest is not possible.
The practice of inserting a reference to a physical supplier's applicable terms and conditions in a bunker delivery note is rife within the local bunkering community. Historically, case law on the subject has been sparse. However, a recent court judgment supports the view that bunker suppliers cannot pursue a vessel or its owners for unpaid bunkers unless that claim is privileged or the order came directly from the vessel, its owner or its agent.
Following the collapse of OW Bunkers, physical bunker suppliers worldwide have had to rethink their business model with respect to the potential debt exposures that they face when conducting business through bunker traders. The matter is further complicated due to the fact that in many cases, there is not just one bunker trader involved, but rather a series of intermediaries, brokers and intermediary traders.
While primarily introduced to amend and update the Aircraft Registration Act and other ancillary-related laws, Act LII/2016 also promulgated particular amendments which go beyond aviation law into the realm of shipping. These recent changes are making Maltese law an ideal legal regime to govern and regulate disputes which may arise under certain types of shipping contract – namely, ship sale and purchase agreements, promise of sale agreements and charterparties.
Following the issuance of a provisional arrest warrant at the request of a physical bunker supplier, the Maltese court determined that it was not vested with jurisdiction in rem and accordingly lifted the arrest. This judgment sheds important light on the onus of proof with which an arresting creditor is burdened. The court held that it was insufficient merely to procure evidence of knowledge of the supply or proof of acceptance of the product from the supplier.
The Maltese Civil Court recently held that underwriters need not make payments under an insurance policy when the loss or damages occurred due to a fault or negligence on the part of the assured and where the assured's behaviour constitutes a breach of policy. This judgment highlights the importance of ensuring that owners are familiar with the content of their insurance policies – in particular, with the responsibilities arising thereunder.
In a recent court-approved private sale, the Maltese Civil Court unprecedentedly permitted a mortgagee to purchase a vessel animo compensandi, meaning that rather than paying the purchase price from its own pocket, the amount was offset against the existing debt owed to the mortgagee. This judgment is significant, as it offers mortgagees more flexible enforcement options.
A Maltese civil court recently considered whether the penalty proceedings under Article 865 of the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure can be brought against a vessel in rem. The court found that such proceedings can be commenced only against the person or persons that removed the vessel from Maltese waters in violation of the court order, not against a vessel in rem.
The Civil Court recently upheld a request to have bunkers supplied to the defendant vessel excluded from a court-approved private sale on the basis that retention of title clauses existed, which governed the supply of the bunkers. The decision demonstrates that the inclusion of retention of title clauses can help to mitigate any possible losses in relation to bunkers.
Following an incident at sea, the master of a ship can make a so-called 'sea protest' in which he or she can declare the facts of the incident as known to him or her. Under Maltese law, a sea protest tends to hold significant probative weight in subsequent settlement negotiations or litigation, since it is often taken as being a correct statement of facts. However, failure to submit a sea protest properly can prove detrimental.
In a recent judgment the Maltese courts rejected a foreign liquidator's application to have a precautionary warrant of arrest lifted on the basis of the EU Insolvency Regulation. This judgment is to date the only judgment delivered by the Maltese courts in which the effects of the regulation on legal proceedings instituted in Malta to secure maritime claims in rem have been discussed.