Container Ship at Sea

The UAE government has included the Transportation Sector as one of the major Industry sectors in their strategic vision and the FTA (Federal Transport Authority) has taken on the task to improve the maritime infrastructure. Areas of needed improvement have been identified such as the UAE Flag registry, Maritime Arbitration, Maritime Law, Maritime Academies and a Maritime Court to name but a few.

Major Projects such as a New UAE Maritime Law and the Emirates Maritime Arbitration Centre (EMAC) have been initiated and thus pave the way for a dedicated maritime Court.

Looking at the current UAE Court system it is apparent that it is not in sync with International Standards and not easily accessible. I have been working in the maritime sector in the UAE for more than 17 Years, dealing with UAE Litigation literally on a daily basis. Being a German and UK qualified Solicitor I have worked with both the Civil and the Common Law Systems in two of the leading maritime Hubs and I do think that we could do considerably better.

Shipping and Trade is a global Business with English as the agreed Form of Communication. It needs unified laws and procedures to be efficient and reliable. Courts and specifically Judges need to understand how to tackle global Trade issues as many legal matters include cross-border. Being at the forefront of Enforcement and UAE Litigation Cases we have a large department consisting of Arabic Lawyers and it took them a great deal to make us international lawyers understanding how the System works. Indeed, we decided to share that knowledge with our colleagues and clients alike and have recently published a book with Lexis Nexis about the UAE Legal System where we try to bridge gaps. One Chapter in that book is about the UAE Court System as foreign solicitors have tremendous problems in making sense of it.

Problems which would need to be addressed are

  1. Official Language Arabic, thus both submissions and all supporting documents need to be translated into Arabic.
  2. No designated commercial or maritime Courts and thus no Judges experienced with maritime and International Trade Cases.
  3. The current System does not allow for Witness Statements and Cross Examinations and thus the Judge has the only limited awareness of the actual matter.
  4. No precedence system and thus no legal clarity on many Issues.
  5. No reimbursement of Legal Fees.
  6. Enforcement problematic.

The solution could be simple as all of the above topics have been already dealt with by the Government by implementing Court Systems in DIFC and ADGM which follow International Standards. The DIFC Court has a near 10-years’ experience and a number of their Judges have an Admiralty Background and thus the establishment of a DIFC Maritime Court would be a straightforward project. Of course, the maritime Law needs to be aligned with it and the seven different Emirates would need to agree on the jurisdiction of this Maritime Court.

Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture the UAE has climbed up a number of different rankings for maritime hubs and Ports and is aiming to establish itself within the top group.

Geographically the UAE will benefit enormously from the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative driven by China. Adding to this a business-friendly environment, no corporate income tax (yet) and world-leading Ports with state of the Art facilities the stage is set to attract major shipowners, operators, traders and supporting businesses to not just open branches but to move decision making departments to the UAE.

Offering Legal Security would be a big step in the right direction and if you would ask me if a maritime Court is a vital element in this drive for excellence you would get a clear answer!

This article was also published in Marasi News Magazine, October issue.

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Jasmin Fichte

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