This article was first published in Naftemporiki.
The New Code of Private Maritime Law enacted by Law 5020/2023 (the “New Code”), which came into force on 1 May 2023 (with the exception of Articles 4 to 9 concerning the digitisation of the ship registry, which will be in force from 1 November 2023), is an important step towards the modernisation of Greek Maritime Law. The New Code, which replaced the previous Code (Law 3816/1958), seeks to simplify the legal framework for the operation and financing of Greek vessels and align Greek maritime law with international practices. Below is a summary of some of the most important amendments introduced by the New Code and the impact they are expected to have on Greek shipping.
The New Code redefines the concept of “ship” to include any “floating structure” capable of sailing under its own means at sea and defines for the first time the concept of the “floating craft “, thus reflecting the current maritime reality, which includes the widespread use of FSRUs, floating docks and warehouses. It also enables the digitalisation of the ship registry, which will now be able to accept documents, keep and issue certificates in electronic format (in Greek or English), following practices already used in some of the world’s largest registers, such as those of Malta, Cyprus, Liberia and the Marshall Islands.
In addition, the provisions on the establishment of both ordinary and preferred mortgages on ships are unified. Maritime mortgages will have priority based on the order in which they are listed in the register, bringing Greek law in line with the corresponding provision in English law.
The New Code also re-confirms the concept and function of maritime liens and maintains their priority over any maritime mortgage, providing that they “follow” the ship, even if the ship is sold (provided that a claim for recognition of the lien is filed within three months of its registration). The categories of maritime liens remain the same and include (a) taxes, duties and rights that burden the ship; (b) masters’ and seamen’s claims; (c) claims in relation to assistance at sea and salvage; and (d) collision claims. The main differences are that under the New Code the lien for fees and duties that burden the ship will only secure such claims that are incurred in the last six months prior to the ship’s arrest and in the case of a contractual sale of the ship, the master and crew will now have only one year from the registration of the sale contract in the registry to file a claim for the recognition of their liens.
The New Code brings additional changes related to the wider range of shipping activities, such as chartering and ship management. In particular, the concept of “charterparty” is significantly expanded with the concept of bareboat charters now being explicitly introduced as a charterparty sub-category and by the legislative recognition of the contracts of affreightment, thus introducing a more comprehensive and modern legal framework.
Ship management activities are for the first time explicitly recognised in the New Code with several provisions concerning inter alia, the relationship between managers and shipowners and the consequential issues of liability that arise. Where the previous version of the Code was fully silent on the issue, this change is a significant development that promotes legal certainty, which is particularly important given the hundreds of ship management companies operating in the sector. In the context of increased international competition and the rising costs of vessels’ operation, shipowners are increasingly tending to outsource certain activities related to the organisation and operation of the ship to specialised ship managers acting as their agents.
It is also worth noting that the section of the previous code relating to the carriage of goods by sea has been completely redrafted in order to bring it in line with the international mandatory regime of the Hague-Visby Rules, which Greece already ratified in 1992.
The results of the implementation of the New Code will be evaluated over time, but its adoption is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, enhancing the consistency of Greek maritime law and reforming it based on international conventions and practices.
You can also read the article in Greek.