Ship related regulations (France)

The French legal background is characterized by the strong mark of international regulations.

Maritime Transport

Among the numerous international Convention concerning maritime transport, the following are in force in France:

  • the International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law relating to Bills of Lading, “Hague Rules”, 1924;
  • the Protocol to Amend the International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law Relating to Bills of Lading, “Visby Rules” February 23, 1968;

However, the Hamburg Convention of March 30th, 1978 and the Rotterdam Convention adopted by the United Nations on September 23, 2009 are not applicable before French courts. However, the parties may chose for their agreement to be subject to the Conventions.

As far as internal rules are concerned, the main legislation is the law of 18 June 1966 highly inspired by the Hague Rules.

A new bill “blue growth” act (loi sur l’Economie bleue) dated  20 June 2016, aims at provide a suitable set of rules in order to face the development of the economic exploitation of the oceans.

Seafarer’s labour law;

France is part of the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention. Any ship entering the French territorial waters is subject to the provisions of the Convention. The Convention ensures a minimum level of protection for seamen, in matter such as employment conditions, wages, free-time, health and or social security protection.

The International Maritime Organization’s International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping for Seafarers of 1978 is also applicable in France.

Then, France has also adopted specific internal rules which grant a higher protection to French seafarers, or people working t most of their time within French territorial waters. These specific rules concerns the minimum wages, social protection which are higher than the international standards.


The successive French governments have ratified the major IMO Conventions’ regarding marine pollution:

  • The Convention of Limitation of Liability of 1969 (coupled with supplementary protocols as the 1971’s FUND Convention or the 2001’s Bunker’s Convention),
  • the MARPOL Convention of 1973,
  • the 1972’s Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and […] Other Matter,
  • the 1971’s Convention relating to Civil Liability in the Field of Maritime Carriage of Nuclear Material,
  • the 2000’s Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Cooperation to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances.

From a domestic point of view the regulations sanctioning damage to the environment are included the Environmental Code. There is a presumption of conviction for the ship-owner, unless it is demonstrated that the pollution was made by any other person exercising the ship management, such as the captain.

The particularity of this systems is that convictions are found once infringements to the MARPOL Convention are established.

The financial penalties amount €4,000  to €15,000.000, depending on the size and the type of the vessel. In addition the Code provides for prison sentences varying from one to ten years.

What is noticeable regarding the recent French environmental case law is the recognizing of an ecological damage. The ecological disaster following the shipwreck of the Erika has permitted the Cour de cassation to affirm a new principle of environmental damage. This is a real step forward in the struggling against pollution

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