Some 100 experts from 48 countries and 13 organizations with an interest in maritime issues met in Geneva last week and considered that the time is ripe for convening a United Nations conference to adopt a new convention on arrest of ships. The experts gathered within a Joint UNCTAD/International Maritime Organization (IMO) Intergovernmental Group and successfully completed the preparation of a set of draft articles for a new Convention on Arrest of Ships. The meeting (2-6 December) was chaired by Mr. Karl John Gombrii (Norway).
The Joint Group, which had already met in Geneva in December 1994 and in London in October 1995, was mandated to review the International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to the Arrest of Sea-Going Ships, 1952.
The objective of the new draft Convention, similar to that of the 1952 Convention, is to protect the interests of both the owners of a ship and its cargo by securing free movement of the vessel and by prohibiting arrest for unjustified claims and claims not related to the operation of the vessel. As Mr. C. Fortin, Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD, in his opening statement remarked: "Delays, financial losses and the disruption of international trade and transport are some of the consequences of unjustifiable arrest of ships. An appropriate legal framework which is widely accepted by the international community would contribute to greater international uniformity of rules applicable to the enforcement of maritime claims, thus enabling traders, financiers and maritime claimants to make a reasonable estimate of the validity of their claims and of the risks involved".
The review of the 1952 Convention was necessary following the adoption of the International Convention on Maritime Liens and Mortgages, 1993 (The 1993 MLM Convention) by a joint United Nations/IMO Conference, held under the auspices of UNCTAD. Arrest is a means of enforcing maritime liens and mortgages. The Arrest Convention therefore needs to be aligned to the 1993 MLM Convention to ensure that on the one hand all claims secured by maritime liens are given the right of arrest under the Arrest Convention; and on the other hand, that circumstances in which ships can be arrested for maritime claims are specified clearly so as to avoid conflicting interpretation in different jurisdictions.
A key question before the meeting was whether the draft Convention should adopt an approach similar to that of the 1952 Convention and include a closed list of maritime claims in respect of which arrest is permitted; or whether it should include an open-ended list of maritime claims, so as to retain flexibility and avoid excluding genuine maritime claims from having right of arrest. Opinions were divided on the subject and in view of the decisive nature of the issue the matter was left to be determined at a future diplomatic conference.
The Joint Group recommended to the IMO Council and to the UNCTAD Trade and Development Board that they consider "favourably, on the basis of the useful work done so far, proposing to the General Assembly of the United Nations the convening of a diplomatic conference to consider and adopt a convention on certain rules relating to the arrest of ships on the basis of the draft articles for a convention prepared by the Group of Experts".