Navigating the Waters of UAE Shipping Law: A Comprehensive Guide

Feb 15


Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Hassan Mohsen Elhais

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a pivotal maritime hub, with its legal framework for shipping rooted in a civil law system influenced by French, Roman, and Egyptian legal codes. The nation's maritime code, the Federal Law number 26 of 1981, has been a cornerstone of the UAE's shipping industry for over four decades. This legislation has been instrumental in fostering the growth of the UAE as a leading center for maritime trade in the Middle East, with its ports handling a significant portion of global commerce. The UAE's maritime prowess is underscored by its 12 commercial trading ports, which boast 310 berths and a cargo tonnage of 80 million tons. Notably, Jebel Ali and Mina Rashid are among the top fifty container ports worldwide, as recognized by the World Shipping Council.

The Legal Framework of UAE Maritime Code

The UAE's maritime code encompasses a wide array of topics,Navigating the Waters of UAE Shipping Law: A Comprehensive Guide Articles including vessel registration, ownership, mortgage, insurance requirements, and legal matters related to arrest and collision. It defines a 'vessel' comprehensively, including hovercrafts used for commercial or non-commercial purposes. The code has absorbed many provisions from Kuwait's maritime law, which itself is influenced by international maritime laws. A new maritime code is on the horizon, promising to introduce modern changes to the existing framework.

Vessel Registration in the UAE

The UAE has established a 'Registration Bureau' under the Maritime Inspection Department at the Ministry of Communications. This bureau maintains a 'Special Register' for vessels at UAE ports and a 'General Register' for vessels at the Maritime Inspection Department. According to Article 13 of the Maritime Code, every vessel must have a name, nationality, a flag to fly, and a port of registry. Applications for vessel registration must be submitted within 30 days of construction completion or ownership acquisition, or upon the vessel's entry into a UAE port if these events occur abroad.

Commercial Liability Under Maritime Law

The maritime law holds carriers liable for losses or damages to goods from the time of receipt until delivery at the discharge ports (Article 275). However, carriers can be exempted from liability if they prove that the damage or destruction of goods resulted from specific causes, such as vessel unseaworthiness, navigation errors, acts of God, war incidents, or other listed causes. The burden of proof lies with the party claiming exemption, who must demonstrate that no failure on their part caused the damages or losses.

The Economic Impact of UAE Seaports

Since the 1970s oil boom, the UAE's seaports have significantly contributed to the nation's gross domestic product, fostering a robust maritime industry. These ports have implemented measures to ensure the welfare of personnel, seafarers, and port operators. As a critical sector driving economic growth and development, the UAE is poised to become a regional hub for cargoes, serving the needs of industries across the Gulf, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

Key Statistics and Developments in UAE Maritime Trade

  • The UAE's maritime sector contributes significantly to the country's economy, with the shipping industry accounting for a substantial share of the UAE's non-oil GDP. According to the Federal Transport Authority, the maritime industry contributes over AED 26 billion to the UAE economy annually.
  • The UAE is a signatory to numerous international maritime conventions, including the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which further aligns its shipping practices with global standards.
  • The anticipated new maritime code is expected to enhance the UAE's competitiveness in the global shipping industry by addressing contemporary challenges and incorporating international best practices.

For more detailed information on the UAE's maritime code and its implications for shipping practices, you can refer to the Federal Transport Authority and the World Shipping Council. These resources provide authoritative insights into the UAE's maritime regulations and the global shipping industry's trends and statistics.