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New maritime and port regulations to improve competitiveness

Last 1st of  March, the Council of Ministers approved the Law on the Modification of the Revised Text of the Law on State Ports and the Merchant Navy and the Law on Maritime Navigation (Ley de Modificación del Texto Refundido de la Ley de Puertos del Estado y de la Marina Mercante y la Ley de Navegación Marítima).  This legal reform brings the Spanish Maritime legislation into line with international and European maritime transport regulations, the new regulation was created to improve the competitiveness of the Spanish maritime and port sector and, among the main new features of the text, it includes the reform of the Register of Ships and Shipping Companies, which is a pioneering regulation, given that for the first time it includes a regulation of the so-called autonomous or unmanned vessels.

The new regulation is proposed as a coherent update of the two main laws of Spanish Maritime Law with the following objectives:

  • Better fit with the European regulatory framework
  • To adapt to the new needs of maritime transport.
  • To provide legal certainty to the Spanish maritime and port sector.
  • Improve the competitiveness of ports and shipping companies.

The reform will cover certain existing regulatory gaps and coordinate legislation to avoid overlapping. It includes for the first time regulation applicable to autonomous or unmanned vessels, which will be governed by the general navigation rules.

Another of the law’s objectives is to provide the tools to deal with extraordinary circumstances such as those experienced during the pandemic and incorporates additional guarantees to avoid possible problems for Spanish shipping companies in these cases.

One of the major new features of the text is the reform of the Register of Ships and Shipping Companies, which improves its competitiveness, reinforcing the coordinating role of the maritime administration in its management and improving its communication with the Mercantile Register of Movable Goods.

Another novelty is the creation of the Special Register of Pleasure Crafts and Recreational vessels for commercial exploitation. Likewise, the old regime for the import and export of vessels is eliminated and recreational navigation is given greater importance. From now on, recreational vessels flying a foreign flag but whose owners are Spanish residents will be subject to national regulations on safety and protection of the marine environment.

Finally, it contemplates a simplified regime for the registration of recreational craft in the Register of Ships and Shipping Companies, thus tackling the disparity of registration methods that currently exist.

The reform regulates the state-owned port system with the aim of improving the processing of files by the Port Authorities, such as works projects, review of agreements, contracts and compliance with environmental procedures and maritime signalling, among others.

With regard to the amendments to the Maritime Navigation Act, the regulation of ship clearance stands out. The term “clearance” is introduced to broaden the possibilities for clearance, in order to speed up this procedure. The new Certificate of Registry is also added as a substitute for the Registration Certificates and the Navigation Patent, for a better homologation with the international documentation.

Finally, the serious economic and environmental problem for the ports of the abandonment of recreational craft is tackled with a chapter on public certification of the files in this matter.

The Government updates the Merchant Navy, Maritime Navigation and State Ports regulations.

With the approval, in the Council of Ministers, of the Law that brings it into line with international and European maritime transport regulations, the new regulation was created to improve the competitiveness of the Spanish maritime and port sector and, among the main new features of the text, it includes the reform of the Register of Ships and Shipping Companies, which is a pioneering regulation, given that for the first time it includes a regulation of the so-called autonomous or unmanned vessels.

The Council of Ministers, at its meeting today and at the proposal of the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda (Mitma), has approved the Law to Modify the Revised Text of the Law on State Ports and the Merchant Navy and the Law on Maritime Navigation with the aim of updating the rules governing Spanish maritime transport to international and European regulations and adapting them to the new needs of maritime transport.

This reform is designed to improve the competitiveness of the Spanish maritime and port sector and will fill certain regulatory gaps that have been detected. In addition, it will coordinate both legislations in order to avoid duplication or overlapping.

It is also a pioneering regulation given that for the first time it incorporates a regulation applicable to autonomous or unmanned vessels, which will be subject to the general navigation rules, and provides for the necessary specialisations that will allow the maritime and port administration to establish the necessary measures to guarantee their safety.

The main new features of the new regulatory text include the reform of the Register of Ships and Shipping Companies, which improves its competitiveness, reinforcing the coordinating role of the management carried out by the maritime administration and improving its communication with the Register of Movable Goods.

Recreational boating

The new Special Register of Recreational Boats and Vessels is also created for those that are subject to commercial exploitation. The management offices are located in the Maritime Captaincy of Ceuta and Melilla and its purpose is to promote the Spanish flag of this important sector.

On the other hand, the obsolete regime of import and export of vessels disappears and, in its place, recreational navigation is given its own substantivity. In this respect, recreational vessels or boats flying the flag of other States, but whose owners reside in Spain, will be subject to national rules on safety and protection of the marine environment.

A simplified system of registration in the Register of Ships and Shipping Companies is also envisaged for recreational craft and nautical motorbikes, with the aim of putting an end to the disparity of forms of registration that currently exist.

Regulations to deal with exceptional circumstances

Following the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to modify the competences of the Government and the Maritime Administration was identified.

This regulation provides them with the necessary tools to deal with exceptional circumstances and incorporates new guarantees to avoid potential problems for Spanish shipping companies in these situations.

State Ports

The reform introduces a series of specific amendments to the first book of the Consolidated Text of the Law on State Ports and the Merchant Navy, which regulates the state-owned port system. The purpose of these reforms includes the improvement of the processing of different Port Authority files, such as works projects, review of agreements, contracts and compliance with environmental procedures, establishment of easements in the vicinity of coastal lighting installations and maritime signalling, among others.

In addition, the bunkering service is incorporated as a port service, based on the provisions of Regulation (EU) 2017/352 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 February 2017 establishing a framework for the provision of port services and adopting common rules on financial transparency in ports.

Finally, it clarifies certain issues affecting occupancy, activity or navigation aid fees for sport or recreational craft.

Maritime Navigation Law: more agility, more sustainability

Among the amendments introduced in the Maritime Navigation Law is the regulation of ship clearance, to which the term “authorisation” is added to open up the possibilities of clearance not only to the authorisation formula, but also to the responsible declarations, with the aim of speeding up this procedure.

It also regulates the new Certificate of Registry, which replaces the current Registration Certificates and the Navigation Patent, bringing the documentation of Spanish ships into line with international requirements.

It also adds a new chapter on public certification of the files on the abandonment of recreational craft, which aims to solve the serious economic and environmental problem for ports and other nautical-sports facilities caused by the high number of unpaid and, consequently, abandoned vessels.

In short, this reform brings about a coherent updating of the two main laws of Spanish Maritime Law, provides legal certainty to the sector and improves the competitiveness of ports and shipping companies.

Carlos Espinosa

Solicitor & Tax Adviser

+34 627 41 32 01

carlos.espinosa@iurisnautic.com