It was back in 1958 that the Greek Code of Maritime Law 3816/1958 became national law. After 65 years, on 1 May 2023 this legislation is changing and a new era is dawning in the Greek shipping industry.
The amendments touch on the regulation of a wider range of maritime activities, and this article highlights those with significant implications for P&I cover. Other changes, such as the digitalisation of the ships’ register and the new definition of a ship, fall outside the scope of this article.
1. Crew members have direct rights of action against P&I clubs
This brings Greek law in line with the Maritime Law Convention and affords seafarers the right to claim (i) their full wages; (ii) against their employer and the owner’s P&I Club; in the event of an illness or accident. Previously, seafarers could only claim their basic wage against their employer. The maximum period of entitlement remains the same as in the earlier code, i.e. 4 months.
2. The use of electronic bills of lading
Previously, electronic bills of lading were not recognised and could not form the basis for a claim by or against the carrier. Greece now follows the pattern adopted by major shipping nations, with electronic bills enjoying the same legal status as traditional paper bills.
3. The use of a Club LOU for setting up a limitation fund
In the past, it was only possible to establish a limitation fund by issuing a bank guarantee. The new legislation treats a Club LOU as equivalent to a bank guarantee, and will result in a significant costs saving for parties.
Although this is a step in the right direction, it is regrettable that this recognition of a Club LOU was not extended to providing security to lift an arrest. Lifting an arrest in Greece can be a time consuming and expensive exercise - especially considering that it can take up to two weeks to establish a bank guarantee.
4. The introduction of the concept of wrongful arrest
Previously, claims for wrongful arrest were not available. Damages for loss of hire and the costs of lifting the arrest can now be sought. Interestingly, claimants are not required to provide counter-security for damages when seeking an arrest. Such security protects owners against wrongful claims, but this safeguard is not provided under the new legislation.
5. The time bar for collision matters is now two years from the date of the casualty
Previously, the relevant time bar was only one year from the date of the incident. This amendment brings Greek law in line with the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law respecting Assistance and Salvage at Sea (Brussels, 23 September 1910).
The new amendments are welcomed, and it is hoped they will be less ambiguous than the current legislation - and may lead to fewer legal battles. The changes bring Greek law in line with international practice, but there remains scope for further development.