Home to one of the biggest ports in the world, the UAE is an integral shipping hub in the global trading ecosystem. While shipping law can be a complicated area of the legal framework given competing jurisdictions involved in the international arena, the UAE has its own laws with respect of sorting out maritime disputes.

In the case of maritime debt, Law 26 of the UAE Federal Maritime Law (FML) allows for a right of arrest as a so-called "provisional relief". While a list of what constitutes a "maritime debt" can be found in Article 115 of the FML, there are a number of grounds that must be made out.

Once an application is made to the Civil Court, which has jurisdiction over the ports, a plaintiff must show both evidence of a maritime debt and that unless an arrest order is made the defendant is likely to either leave the country entirely or act in a way that is prejudicial to the rights of the plaintiff. The plaintiff may also be asked to provide a bank guarantee as a form of security.

If, on consideration of the case and supporting documents, the court decides to issue an arrest order there must then be a substantive suit filed within eight days of the issuance of the order. The court will then require the plaintiff to do two further things: to pay all expenses for towing or moving any vessel or any other expenses that may arise as a result of the arrest of the vessel; and agree to compensate the owners of the vessel for any damages that may occur due to the arrest of the vessel if the owners are deemed by the court to be innocent.

Matters of jurisdiction

While the courts may require proof from the port than the defendant in a case is both the owner of the vessel and that the vessel is harboured inside the port limits, the civil court will be able to adjudicate on a claim even if the vessel is not flying a UAE flag. The same applies to adjudicating cases against foreign nationals who do not reside in the UAE, as stipulated by the Civil Procedure Code 1992.

The UAE is not party to any international shipping conventions, so only the law of the land will apply in such a case - while different port authorities in the respective emirates have also been conferred with the power of arrest and detention in such circumstances. The FML also provides legal redress in cases of shipping collisions.