The consequences and complications of banning Russian ships from European ports – The Medi Telegraph

Genoa – The case of the “NS Champion” tanker belonging to Sovcomflot which was to dock at the Flotta oil terminal in the Orkney Islands earlier this week accelerated the British government’s intention to consider banning Russian vessels from British ports. At the time, the British government said: “At this time the ship cannot be refused permission to dock”, the same spokesman added that Westminster was considering restricting access to Russian ships to British ports. Sovcomflot is part of the SCF Group, a company in which the Russian state is the majority shareholder. The UK government spokesman added: “We are aware of concerns about vessels connected to Russia which could dock in the UK and are working rapidly to explore a range of measures to restrict their access.”

A search of port schedules indicated that, despite intensified trade embargoes against Russian companies and state entities, at the time a number of Russian ships were expected to dock at British ports, a situation which was mirrored at a number of European ports and terminals. A series of rulings were quickly introduced in the UK and a number of European countries, leading to a situation in which Russian ships were barred from entering ports. The decision to restrict access of Russian vessels to UK and European ports raises a number of complex legal issues, But the complications don’t end there, other considerations include goods already transported on vessels owned or operated by Russia and goods intended for transport by companies that could be subject to sanctions.

To better understand the complexities, I posed a few questions to Enrico Vergani, head of the transport and shipping team at leading international law firm BonelliErede.

How complex is the issue, what do governments need to establish and how long can it take?
“An official note from the Secretary of State for Transport and Ports was issued on 28 February 2022 to all port authorities in the United Kingdom, with effect from 1 March 2022, concerning the ban on accepting flagged vessels , registered in Russia, or which are related to Russian interests, regardless of the identification of these interests as referring to SDN – Special Designated Nationals and therefore subject to specific sanctions.The same communication expresses the will to help the UK port authorities in the difficult task of assessing when to refuse entry to port and to announce specific provision on this to be published shortly.”

What is a sanctioned vessel?
“Vessels and Owners that are SDN are certainly subject to sanctions. This is a particular and sufficiently clear precept. vessels controlled, chartered or operated by subjects connected with Russia. »

How can this be established?
“This is a huge issue which places a great deal of responsibility on port authorities and subjects called upon to decide on a vessel’s right of access. Criteria on which to base this assessment have been announced by the UK Government and the hope is that they will be clear and unambiguous in their application.”

Very often there is no clear distinction between the public and private sectors in Russia, what kind of problems could this cause?
“With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, three major fleets (the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Azov) were transferred to various companies which took over their management. The legal problem, the subject of many and ardent litigation before the Italians and the courts of the United Kingdom, was whether this management also corresponded to the transfer of ownership or whether, instead, the three companies had the management of assets which, for the most part, remained public but had been transferred from the dissolved Soviet Union to coastal countries, one of which was Ukraine.The issue was not trivial since it affected the ability of creditors to take action against ships in the cases where claims were exercised against the companies operating the fleet. In any case, the convergence of public and private is a phenomenon that still exists in Russia and could lead to a radical extension of the system of sanctions.”

Overall, what impact would banning Russian ships from UK and EU ports have on the shipping industry?
“Given the enormous amounts of credit circulating in the shipping industry, where the level of certainty and security of trade must be guaranteed, the impact is potentially disruptive. Uncertainties of interpretation and application should not exist in this sector as well as, more generally, in the conduct of international traffic. It is also necessary to take into account the interests of third parties who are totally unrelated to the contractual rules of sanctions or involvement of the ship carrying out the transport contained in the contracts of use. holder of a clear bill of lading is a subject who holds secured credit in his hands. It is difficult to think that the legal certainty of a holder or of the endorsement of a credit title can be called into question by a decision made on the basis of “reasonable grounds to suspect”.

Displacement to the Black Sea, under the Montreux Convention of 1936, in times of war, Ankara can prevent certain warships from the countries involved in the conflict from accessing the Black Sea. Are there any provisions in the Convention regarding restrictions on merchant ships?
“The Convention governs the passage of military vessels and cannot be invoked to prevent or restrict the transit of the merchant fleet, so historically the principle of ‘innocent free passage’ applies. Especially in the event that the security of the coastal country, a prerequisite for invoking the application of the Convention, must be demonstrated.”

Would merchant ships be subject to inspections before entering the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits?
“There are cases where it is possible for coastal States or even for a country’s military vessels employed in patrol or security missions to carry out on-board inspections and also to arrest merchant vessels. Examples of this type, some even quite striking, occurred off the coast of Libya during the period known as the “Arab Spring” and subsequent military operations. However, they are instruments of absolute exception which must be invoked and applied with particular caution.”

What other key issues do you see as potentially detrimental to the shipping industry?
“The transport and logistics sector was resuming its growth and development after the great challenge of Covid-19, a period that has been successfully managed by the logistics sector thanks above all to the sacrifices and selflessness of people. who work in the sector The sanctions measures envisaged and their application seem to be characterized by the complete absence of predictability and will certainly cause considerable damage to the sector Beyond certain hypotheses of potential profit, even enormous, of niche activities , shipping and transport will pay a very high price Seafarers, formerly key workers, will be exposed to situations of deep risk and uncertainty and risk from the point of view of their own safety and capacity to keep their jobs and therefore decent living conditions.”

What should companies do and what are the concerns of companies in terms of insurance, seizure of vessels, goods in transit, crews, etc.?
“The Liberian Naval Registry, one of the largest merchant ship registries, has launched an initiative on sanctioning discipline called ‘Culture of Compliance’. This is part of a social responsibility that must be shared between all operators in the sector. But what culture of compliance can we develop in the face of legislation which, by the very admission of the administration which enacted it – and I come back to the note from the British Secretary General of the February 28 – will be the subject of attempts to determine its scope and interpretive canons How can compliance with benchmark sanctions legislation be viewed as a “guiding star” in the planning and development of a commercial activity, in the fulfillment of its obligations towards others as well as the economic interests concerned and, finally, in the exercise of the duty of care towards workers if this legislation is still in force course of definition in its terms of application?

*Temi Pyramid Group

(Credit: FleetMon)