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A day in the life of a Maritime Lawyer

The general perception is that a maritime lawyer is someone that does something that
involves ships.
By and large this perception is right, but the ambit of maritime law and a maritime
lawyer extends beyond the ships and well onto the shore.
A day in the life of a maritime lawyer can
be a bit like a multi-headed monster at
times: daunting to take on, but very
interesting to contemplate..
So says Andrew Pike, the author of this
guest post whose day as a Maritime
Lawyer is covered here..
I suppose that the logical way to
analyze the potential day of a maritime
lawyer is to start by looking at some of the potential interest groups within the
Without setting out an exhaustive list, these would include:
Cargo interests, i.e. importers and exporters of cargo, whether as originators
or traders of that cargo
Land transport operators carrying goods to and from ports (road, rail and
The import and export bulk, break bulk and container terminals, including the
owners and operators of those terminals
Clearing and forwarding agents
Customs authorities
Container depots, warehouse operators, tank farm operators and stockpile
Ships agents
Ship Owners
Officers and crew of ships
Charterers of ships
The Port Authority
South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA or its equivalent in other

Passengers on cruise liners
Regulatory authorities such as the Ports Regulator of South Africa.
Having identified some of the stakeholders, it will be apparent that at some level a
connection can be made between all of them. More importantly, there are
particular relationships between some of them which may have knock-on effects
for others.
For instance, a cargo exporter will have
relationships potentially with his clearing
and forwarding agents, Customs
authorities, terminal operators, a ship
owner or a charterer and the Port
Authority, to say nothing of those
responsible for land transport of his
goods to the ship side. Every relationship
between one industry stakeholder and
another will be evidenced by some sort
of contract.
Sometimes contracts are written and
sometimes they are oral, but in every
instance a formal relationship will be evidenced by a contract or agreement. One of
the roles of the maritime lawyer is to facilitate those relationships by writing
practical and fair contracts.
The lot of the maritime lawyer is not only to draft agreements, but where the lawyer
is not a party to the drafting, also to interpret the agreement and help resolve
disputes arising out of each agreement.
Examples of the typical written agreements or contracts one would expect to see
within the industry include:
Contracts of carriage for the cargo from (or to) its land side origin to (or from)
the harbour, a depot, place of storage and so on
Storage agreements e.g. for the storage of dry or liquid bulk, storage of
containers and warehousing of breakbulk
Terminal throughput agreements
Standard Trading Conditions for most service providers
Charter parties between ship owners and charterers
Consignment notes between shippers and charterers

Bills of Lading
Terminal regulations
Port regulations
The maritime lawyer will also often be involved in the international sale of goods
aspect, meaning that he will be required to review the sale contracts in respect of
goods purchased or sold and give advice on letters of credit and other trade
finance issues.
Although most maritime lawyers will at some stage be required to draft and review
the above documents, inevitably disputes arise between the parties who are in
relationship with each other. The contractual documents define the parameters of
the relationship and when disputes arise the documents are usually the primary
point of reference for courts and arbitration tribunals to resolve those disputes.
Some of the typical disputes which arise can center around things such as:
Damage to cargo
Short landing of cargo
Contamination of cargo by loading terminals or indeed by the ship itself
Throughput disputes between terminal owners and users in terms of speed of
throughput, demurrage claims and volumes
Charter party disputes in respect of the speed and consumption performance
of a vessel, payment of hire or freight, demurrage, despatch and the like
Disputes with Port authorities concerning their decision making or application
of tariffs
Customs disputes
Bad debts of service providers
All of the above is what maritime lawyers colloquially call dry work, i.e. work
which relates to disputes which are generally unrelated to shipping casualties.
The so called wet work almost
always involves causalities in some
form or another. Hence, maritime
lawyers can find themselves
investigating and dealing with the fallout from:
Oil spills
Fires on board ships

All of the above from a single incident.
The wet work is always exciting, requiring immediate investigation, thoughtful and
quick decision-making and of course advice to all of the interested stakeholders.
For instance, in a particular casualty, the various stakeholders can include the ship
owner, the ship manager, master and crew, cargo owners, charterers, cargo
insurers, hull insurers, salvors, the environment (and all those involved with the
environment), governments and the like.
All of these may require legal representation in order to resolve the issues that
arise, so when there is a major casualty maritime lawyers are at a premium.
As far as Court work is concerned, all maritime disputes can end up in court or
arbitration and maritime lawyers of course need to be able to apply maritime legal
principles to the facts at hand and what they know of maritime matters. Very often
this means bringing in expert witnesses, e.g. fire experts, coal experts, master
mariners, marine engineers, architects and so on into cases as consultants and
The so called bread and butter work of the average South African maritime lawyer
is ship arrests, particularly having regard to associated ships. The purpose of
arresting a ship is so that the legal proceedings can commence in South Africa.
However, a ship arrest can also provide security for a claimant who is not sure that
he will be paid if he gets a court order or arbitration award in his favour.
South Africa is a well-known arrest jurisdiction which is able to arrest ships in order
to obtain security for proceedings anywhere in the world. In addition, South African
maritime law is unique in the sense that it permits the arrest of associated ships,
which are ships not necessarily in the same ownership as the guilty ship, but
which are commonly controlled.
Hence South African maritime law allows one to look past the corporate veil to
discover who is behind a particular fleet of ships. This offers huge advantages to
those seeking security, especially when the original guilty ship has been lost or
In short, there is very rarely a dull moment in the day of a maritime lawyer.
Andrew Pike is an Executive and Life Coach, Attorney and Blogger at THE TALKING

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