The Buenos Aires Federal Court of Appeal has confirmed that the master of a foreign-flagged vessel has the capacity to appoint a local attorney to appear in court and challenge an arrest proceeding.(1) The arrestor – a shipper and owner of a terminal located in up-river Paraná – sought the arrest of the vessel, claiming damages for an alleged delay prior to berthing. The terminal issued an invoice for "unproductive hours" and threatened to arrest the vessel if the invoice was not paid immediately.


The issue addressed by the judge was whether the master, acting on behalf of the vessel's owners, was entitled to appoint a local attorney to bring defences. The arrestor brought an incidental question that challenged the master's capacity to issue a power of attorney, claiming that it was the local agency intervening that represented the vessel's interest, and hence the master lacked capacity to appear in court.

The arrestor's proposition was not capricious as the arrest was conveniently sought in Buenos Aires, 300km from where the vessel berthed, on the ground that the local agency intervening on behalf of the vessel had a branch therein. The terminal's counsel was also based in Buenos Aires.

Under Argentine law, there are two types of agencies that can be involved in the shipping field:

  • On the one hand, the local agency appointed as the customs' agent. Their intervention is compulsory as they are severally liable, together with the carrier, against the Federal Administration of Public Revenue where there are discrepancies with the cargo figures – whether during loading or discharging operations – and that might result in a tax or fine imposition. It is the charterer that normally appoints this agency.
  • On the other hand, should the vessel require any service on the owner's account, head owners may try to find a trusted local agency to handle husbandry matters or any other service required. Unlike the customs' agent, this appointment is not compulsory as the owners are free to enter into direct contracts with local vendors.

Eventually, the master brought defences and claimed that the Buenos Aires court lacked jurisdiction on the merits, and at same the time, sought to lift the arrest by means of a surety bond reserving the owner's right to claim for a wrongful arrest.


The judge recalled the rules from the Navigation Act 20,094 that are applicable to masters of any foreign-flagged vessels, according to which:

  • the master is the legal representative of the vessel's owner;
  • the master can be a plaintiff or defendant in any claim involving the vessel's owner; and
  • the master's capacity to appear in court does not prevent the local agency from acting as a customs' agent to jointly appear in court at any time.

On appeal, the Buenos Aires Federal Court of Appeal confirmed the judge decision's and expressed that there were two requirements for the master to be accepted as a party:

  • the proceeding must relate to an issue involving navigation; and
  • the vessel's owner is not domiciled in the jurisdiction where the proceeding was brought.


The court of appeal's decision will bring clarity to several cases where masters have vigorously brought defences to protect owners' interests.(2)

For further information on this topic please contact Francisco Venetucci at Venetucci & Asociados by telephone (+54 3476 421 556) or email ([email protected]). The Venetucci & Asociados website can be accessed at www.venetucci.net.


(1) Federal Civil and Commercial Court of Appeal, Chamber II, File 005683/2019, 25 June 2021.

(2) This decision has also opened the door to discussions that will be covered in subsequent articles – namely, whether:

  • a federal court with admiralty jurisdiction other than the closest to the vessel has jurisdiction; and
  • a foreign-flagged vessel can be arrested on the ground of "unproductive hours" before berthing.