Published: Feb 1, 2024

New UAE Maritime Law – A Shift in the Law on Wrecks

Authored by Adam Gray, Senior Counsel – Transport & Insurance

The UAE is not a party to the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007 (the “Wreck Convention”).  Instead, the position on wreck removal was outlined in UAE Cabinet Resolution No 71 of 2021 on Marine Wrecks and Violating Ships (“CR 2021”) which loosely incorporated aspects of the Wreck Convention but omitted several elements.  The UAE has opted to adopt an expanded version of the CR 2021 in Federal Decree No. 43 of 2023 (the “New Maritime Law”) rather than move closer to the Wreck Convention provisions.  For example, the CR 2021 and the New Maritime Law make no reference to the procedure or liability for reporting wrecks; determination of hazards; locating or marking wrecks, as the Wreck Convention does.

Whilst a full exposition of the New Maritime Law on wrecks or “marine debris” is not possible in this short note, key elements of the CR 2021 which have been retained in the New Maritime Law are:

  1.  The owner has primary responsibility for removing the wreck within 60 days (although this will run from becoming a wreck, rather than from the date of receiving a written warning from the authorities);
  2. Absent removal within 60 days, the authorities may take measures to remove the wreck.
  3. The authorities may auction the wreck to recover raising, removal and associated expenses.
  4. There is no right of direct action against the insurer, unlike in the Wreck Convention.  (However, in practice, the concerned Harbour Master will require the P&I Club to foot the costs of wreck associated costs or threaten to block the insurer’s members from entering the port in future).

It is unclear whether the CR 2021 has been entirely repealed by the New Maritime Law, or whether any non-conflicting provisions survive.

Of note is that the CR 2021 definition of a “wreck” has been significantly widened under the New Maritime Law.  “Wreck” was defined under the CR 2021 as:

  1.  Any sunken, stranded Ship, or any part thereof, including any object that is/was on board; or
  2. Any stranded, sunken or adrift object that is lost from the Ship at sea; or
  3. Any Ship that is about, or reasonably expected, to sink or to strand, where the effective measures to assist the Ship or any property in danger are not already being taken.

This definition mirrors the Wreck Convention definition.  However, under the New Maritime Law, a vessel will be treated as a wreck where:

  1. It harms the interests of the State from security aspect or marine safety or violates the preservation of the marine environment and the protection of lives.
  2. Anchoring in places other than those designated for docking ships in the waters of the State, or without permission from the competent entities.
  3. Failure of its owner or operator to pay fees and expenses for towing it, securing it and its mooring.
  4. Expiry of its insurance policies against marine damages and liabilities.
  5. Not being registered under the flag of a particular State, or that their registration documents are proven to be forged.
  6. Any other case specified in the Implementing Regulations.

This is an interesting development which is expected to see many more ships that are not conventionally understood to constitute “wrecks” being caught within the definition.  Now, owners will run the risk of their vessels being treated as a wreck where their insurance policies have expired; where it is anchored in the wrong place or where it is registered under an unacceptable flag.  Owners will need to be more vigilant in order to avoid the risk of the authorities removing their vessel under these provisions.  The “written warning” (of becoming a wreck) requirement is omitted from the New Maritime Law, but we expect owners will nonetheless be put on notice of falling within these provisions.

The new definition is broad and endows the authorities with wide discretion to treat a vessel as a “wreck”.  We are yet to see if the definition is expanded further by the Implementing Regulations.

How can we help?

Our team at Al Tamimi & Company is monitoring these developments. With a commitment to providing expert guidance and support, we are well-prepared to assist you in adapting to the changes brought about by the New Maritime Law. For in-depth analysis and legal advice, we encourage you to engage with our maritime and insurance law specialists.

Key Contacts

Omar N. Omar

Partner, Head of Transport & Insurance
Adam Gray

Senior Counsel (Consultant)