Final Decision

Recently there has been much publicity and concern (both in the United Arab Emirates and worldwide) regarding the publication of a memorandum issued by the General Secretariat of the Ministry of State for Cabinet Affairs on May 21 2001, following Cabinet Decision 289/4.


The Cabinet's meeting concerned a memorandum from the minister of communications about oil spills in the United Arab Emirates' territorial waters and the ministry's proposals for action.

The Cabinet's decision included the following measures:

  • Any ship flying the flag of Albania, Belize, Bolivia, Honduras, Georgia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Mauritius, Cambodia, the Maldives or Comoros will be banned from UAE territorial waters. The decision gives power to the relevant ministry to extend this ban to "any other nation which the ministry shall classify on information received from the International Maritime Organization as a high-risk nation". Any vessel failing to comply with the decision shall be seized and detained.

    Any vessel presently operating in the United Arab Emirates' territorial waters under a navigation licence issued by the Maritime Affairs Division of the Ministry of Communications and under contract to the government of the United Arab Emirates shall be entitled to operate until that vessel's contracts come to an end, but those contracts will not be renewed. As drafted, this stay of execution appears to apply only to vessels that have contracts with the government.

  • Companies in the United Arab Emirates that deal with ship registration and represent the aforementioned nations will be closed down and no similar companies will be allowed to open for business in the future.
  • Unseaworthy ships that are seized in the Gulf region are not to be put back into operation once they have been auctioned off in the United Arab Emirates. This provision reflects the fact that the decision is directed at managing marine pollution. The successful bidder in any auction will be required to scrap the vessel and must provide an "appropriate money guarantee with a local bank", which will be released only when satisfactory confirmation is provided that the vessel has been scrapped.
  • Finally, the Ministry of Communications (Maritime Search and Ship Monitoring Section) is granted approval to "maintain a highly efficient team of maritime inspectors" at all the main ports in the United Arab Emirates along the length of the UAE coastline. It is stated that their job will be to "search and monitor all commercial ships calling at UAE ports and to inspect such ships to verify their compliance with international and local regulations dealing with the safeguarding of the marine environment against pollution and the safety of lives at sea".

Any vessels found to be in breach of these regulations will be seized until the breach is remedied, or the vessels will be banned from calling at UAE ports in the future.

Final Decision

On June 24 2001, following some significant amendments to the original proposal, the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai issued the Cabinet decision. The majority of the decision will come into force 30 days after it is published in the Official Gazette. However, Article 5 (which deals with the auctioning and selling of seized vessels for scrap only) is effective immediately upon publication.

According to the decision, vessels flying the flags of the aforementioned will be banned from entering UAE ports, anchorage areas, territorial waters and the country's economic zone (not merely territorial waters as had originally been proposed) unless they carry valid classification certificates issued by the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS).

The IACS members are:

  • American Bureau of Shipping;
  • Bureau Veritas;
  • China Classification Society;
  • Det Norske Veritas;
  • Germanischer Lloyd;
  • Korean Register;
  • Lloyds Register;
  • Nippon Kaiji Kyokai;
  • Registro Italiano Navale; and
  • Russian Maritime Register.

It is unclear whether the government intends the list of classification societies to include the two IACS associates (Croatian Register and Indian Register).

The decision also provides that any vessel presently operating in UAE territorial waters under a navigation licence issued by the marine affairs division of the Ministry of Communication and under contract to "the authorities" (presumably the government) shall be entitled to operate until the expiry of that vessel's contracts, but the contracts will not be renewed.

The provision contained in the earlier decision whereby companies dealing with ship registration for owners wishing to register their vessels with the 10 banned flagged states would be closed down and no similar companies would be allowed to open for business is included. However, the decision bans ship registration companies "belonging to" the 10 countries. This requires clarification, since there are independent companies assisting with registration of vessels with the registries of those 10 countries. It is unclear whether this provision is aimed at closing down those independent companies.

Unseaworthy ships and ships that breach the ban shall now have "appropriate action [taken] against them". Presumably it is open to the UAE authorities (but they are not bound) to confiscate such vessels since provisions from the earlier decision remain, to the effect that vessels that are seized for violation of the ban may not operate again once they have been auctioned off in the United Arab Emirates. Equally, however, vessels may simply be banned. If a vessel is seized and auctioned, any successful bidder in an auction will be required to scrap the vessel. The successful bidder must provide a guarantee which will only be released when satisfactory confirmation is provided that the vessel has been scrapped.

The maritime inspection and ships control department of the Ministry of Communication will inspect and control commercial ships approaching the state's ports, coasts, territorial waters and economic zone to enforce local and international rules relating to the protection of the marine environment. Any vessels in breach of these rules will be seized until violations are corrected. If "correction is useless" they may be banned.

The most significant amendment to the proposal is that there is no blanket ban on all vessels flying the aforementioned flags. Rather, vessels flying those flags and classed by a non-IACS classification society will be banned. The other significant amendment is the extension of the 'no-go' zone to the extent of the UAE economic zone (not just territorial waters).

On a related subject, according to Fujairah Notice to Mariners 63/01, the authorities in Fujairah are banning all non-IACS classed tankers from Fujairah ports and waters. This ban appears to be based on identity of classification society alone, and not a combination of flag and class.

For further information on this topic please contact Chris Mills at Clyde & Co by telephone (+971 4 3311102) or by fax (+971 4 3319920) or by e-mail ([email protected]).

The materials contained on this web site are for general information purposes only and are subject to the disclaimer.