Overview of Shipping Regulations in the UAE

What is the governing legislation?

The provisions of the Federal Law No. 26 of 1981 (UAE Maritime Code) and  Federal Law No. 19 of 1993, governing the delimitation of maritime areas in the UAE.

While the major shipping conventions such as SOLAS 74,78, Loadline 66, Tonnage 69, COLREG 72, STCW 78, MARPOL 73 Annexes I-V, CLC 69, 76, 92, LLMC 76, and Salvage 89 have all been ratified by the UAE, they have yet to acquire the force of law. Therefore the UAE Maritime Code remains the overriding legislation.

What is the limitation period?

In general, no action can be brought under a contract of carriage more than one year from the date of arrival of the goods at the discharge port or from the date upon which they should have been delivered.

In circumstances where no contractual relationship exists and there are no applicable provisions in the UAE Maritime Code, actions can be brought under Federal Law No. 5 of 1985 (UAE Civil Transactions Code). Such tortious actions, categorised as “acts causing harm”, are subject to a three year limitation period commencing from the date that the victim became aware of the occurrence of the harm and of the identity of the person responsible for it. However all acts causing harm are subject to a “drop dead” date of fifteen years commencing from the date upon which the harmful act took place.

Are there any limitations on liability and compensation amounts?

While the UAE has ratified the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims 1976 and this should supersede domestic law, it has yet to repeal the limitation provisions set out in the UAE Maritime Code. Therefore these may still be applied by the Courts and are set out below. 

In the case of the death or injury of any person on board the vessel or the loss or damage of any property on board the vessel:

  1. a) The sum of AED 250 for every ton of the tonnage of the vessel, if only material damage has resulted from the accident;
  2. b) The sum of AED 500 for every ton of the tonnage of the vessel, if only physical damage has resulted from the accident; and
  3. c) The sum of AED 750 for every ton of the tonnage of the vessel, if both material and physical damage have resulted from the accident.

A limitations on liability may not be utilised as a defence in circumstances where:

–          The claims arise from the personal fault of the owner;

–          The owner’s obligations arise from assistance and salvage, or out of a general average contribution;

–          The owner’s obligations arise in connection with the rights of the master, crew or any other person under the owner of the vessel who is on board, or whose work is connected with the service thereof, and the rights of their heirs; and

–          The claims arise out of nuclear damage and are directed against the owner of a nuclear vessel.

Limiting liability in maritime cases in the UAE is a rare occurrence. Sharia law underpins the UAE legal system and under Sharia law harm done to another should be “made good”. For this reason, the local Courts generally remain reluctant to accept such limitation.

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