Vessel passage through the Red Sea has traditionally been crucial for global trade, particularly in view of shipping costs and travel time. After the Yemen’s Houthi movement first stated in the beginning of December last year that it will target all ships heading to Israel regardless of their nationality and warned all international shipping companies against dealing with Israeli ports, the situation has developed and deteriorated quickly.
The Norwegian Shipowners Association amongst many other industry bodies advised members already in late December to avoid sailing through the Red Sea and states that “The situation for civilian shipping entering and exiting through the Bab el Mandeb and in the southern Red Sea is serious and unacceptable.”
This year, after a series of further attacks, military forces from the United States and the United Kingdom, with support from a number of other states, initiated counter strikes against targets in Yemen.
The conflict and the escalating situation in the Red Sea pose a serious security risk to crewmembers, vessels and cargo. Shipowners, disponent owners, operators, charterers, traders and other concerned parties should be aware of the legal issues this entails.
Some key legal concerns
- Safety measures, preparation and training of the crew; crew’s rights and obligations
- Security and contingency planning for the vessel and cargo
- Flag state requirements
- Port state / port entry requirements
- Insurance cover, rights and obligations
- Contractual rights and obligations under charterparties, sales agreements and other relevant contracts; supply chain disruptions
The above list is not exhaustive and shipowners and other concerned parties need to be mindful of the situation and all legal implications. Notwithstanding this, we wish to highlight the safety of the crew under Norwegian law when vessels are operating in areas of war and conflict. Under Norwegian law, which may in this respect not be very different from many other laws, it is the shipowners’ duty to ensure the crew’s safety and health.
Crew safety and health
The shipowner shall carry out specific risk assessments and take preventive measures against attacks, which include amongst other crew training and preparations, relevant warnings, security and contingency planning. War and conflict may trigger the need for armed guards on board the vessel. Non-compliance can lead to shipowners’ liability for damages, administrative sanctions, and criminal liability.
Sometimes, additional crew may be necessary to meet safety requirements, and the crew may have the right to leave the vessel prior to leaving port or after arriving at a port when he or she becomes aware of war or war-like conditions in waters where the vessel shall sail.
As the current situation represents a serious example of an escalating regional conflict, it is likely that similar legal issues arise now and possibly in the future elsewhere in relation to other regional conflicts in the Middle East.
Given the ongoing volatility and fast-moving development, owners, disponent owners, operators, charterers, traders and other concerned parties are recommended to seek advice on the current situation and please do not hesitate to contact us.