In Rem Action- Demise Charterer or Not?

‘Statutory liens’ or ‘statutory rights in rem’ come into existence on commencement of in rem proceedings (The Monica S [1967] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 113). In practice, this means that, if a ship is sold to a third party before the jurisdiction has been invoked or if a charter by demise is terminated before such time, then the potential claimant may be unable to benefit from the in rem proceedings and the accompanying right of ship arrest. The most recent judgment of the Admiralty Court in Aspida Travel v The Owners and/or Demise Charterers of the Vessel ‘Columbus’ and The Owners and/or Demise Charterers of the Vessel ‘Vasco Da Gama’ [2021] EWHC 310 (Admlty) highlights that.

In this case, Aspida Travel claimed against the proceeds of sale of the vessels ‘Vasco De Gama’ and ‘Columbus’ in respect of travel agency services for the transport of crew to and from the vessels which took place between 1 January 2020 to 31 July 2020 when the vessels went to lay-up due to the pandemic. At that time the vessels ‘Vasco De Gama’ and ‘Columbus’ were demise chartered to Lyric Cruise Ltd and Mythic Cruise Ltd respectively to whom Aspida provided the relevant services and rendered the resulting invoices. The claim forms were issued on 13 November and 20 November 2020. The basis of the claims was Section 21 of the Senior Courts Act 1981, paragraph 4 of which provides that:

‘In the case of any such claim as is mentioned in section 20 (2) (e) to (r), where –

  • the claim arises in connection with a ship; and
  • the person who would be liable on the claim in an action in personam (‘the relevant person’) was, when the cause of action arose, the owner or charterer of, or in possession or in control of, the ship, an action in rem may (whether or not the claim gives rise to a maritime lien on that ship) be brought in the High Court against –
    • that ship, if at the time when the action is brought the relevant person is either the beneficial owner of that ship as respects all the shares in it or the charterer of it under a charter by demise; or
    • any other ship of which, at the time when the action is brought, the relevant person is the beneficial owner as respects all the shares in it.’

The main objection to the claims was that they do not meet the requirements of Section 21 (4) of the Senior Courts Act 1981, in that Lyric Cruise Ltd and Mythic Cruise Ltd as the ‘relevant persons’ (i.e. the persons who would be liable in personam on the claims) were the charterers at the time when the cause of action arose, but not the demise charterers at the time when the action was brought. In fact, Mythic Cruise Ltd and Lyric Cruise Ltd terminated their charters on 7 October 2020 and 9 October 2020. As the claims were brought more than a month later, it was held that the third require of the Section 21 (4) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 was not fulfilled. By the time the claims were issued, Mythic Cruise Ltd and Lyric Cruise Ltd were no longer the demise charterers.

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