A Diplomatic Conference of the United Nations and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on 12 March unanimously adopted a new International Convention on Arrest of Ships (contained in document A/CONF.188/L.2).
Senior representatives of almost 100 nations, and nearly 20 interested organizations and professional associations participated in the two-week Conference, held under UNCTAD auspices (see also TAD/INF/2797). The Conference was chaired by Mr. Zhu Zengjie, Senior Advisor of the China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company.
Some critical issues had to be dealt with by the Conference to reach agreement on a new Convention. Among them was the definition of a "maritime claim". Views differed on whether or not the Convention should adopt a closed list of maritime claims giving rise to a right of arrest. After a protracted debate, the Conference reached a compromise whereby a closed list of claims is maintained, with some flexibility in certain categories, for example, in relation to loss or damage covering environmental claims.
The question of sister ship arrest gave rise to an extensive debate. Some delegations argued that the proliferation of single-ship companies since 1952 meant that often, in practice, there was no possibility of arresting a sister ship. A radical proposal was therefore made to adopt provisions for the arrest of "associated" ships using the concept of control as the criterion for establishing an association. The Conference considered, however, that the problem could not be solved in the context of this Convention as it had implications for other areas of law such as corporate law and contract law.
One advance in the new Convention is that it clearly sets out the cases in which a ship may be re-arrested or another ship arrested for the same claim; for instance, if the nature or amount of the security provided is inadequate, or when the provider of the security is unlikely to be able to fulfill his obligations.
Another development is that, unlike the 1952 Convention, the new instrument generally grants jurisdiction to the courts of the State in which an arrest has been made or security has been provided to obtain release from arrest.
The new international rules on arrest apply to all ships, whether or not they are seagoing and whether or not they are flying the flag of a State Party, although State Parties can enter a reservation on this point when acceding to the Convention.
The Convention will be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and will be open for signature by any State at the United Nations headquarters, New York, from 1 September 1999 to 31 August 2000. It will enter into force six months after the date on which ten States have expressed their consent to be bound by it.