Maritime Arrest Under English Law

Maritime arrest is a legal action to seize a vessel, cargo, container or other maritime property as security for a claim or to enforce a maritime lien. The claim may be brought "in rem", namely against the arrested property itself and not necessarily against the property's owner (which may be unknown). Arrest differs from "attachment" in that the property itself is not the named party in the action and the defendant must own the property for it to be subject to attachment. "Arrest" is literally just that – the vessel will be prevented from moving or trading pending resolution of the outstanding claim.

Arrest can be effected under English law, the Arrest Convention 1952, or the Arrest Convention 1969. For the purposes of this note, I will deal with the position under English law, governed by the Admiralty Court in London, although the regime is similar in many jurisdictions under these Conventions.

Arrest is available in a wide variety of situations, including any claim to ownership or possession of a vessel or share in it, any claim for damage done by or suffered to a vessel, to claims for goods or materials supplied to a vessel for its operation or maintenance, or a general average act, to name but a few.

There are of course criteria that must be met in order for the Court to entertain an application for arrest. The underlying dispute must be a "maritime claim" as defined by s20 of the Supreme Court Act 1981, meaning that the claim must have some connection with shipping, or aviation. The claimant must also prove that the vessel in respect of which arrest is sought is connected with the claim.

If the claim is a maritime lien, this may operate to allow the arrest of a vessel even if it has changed ownership – the doctrine being that the lien attaches to the property at the time the cause of action arises and remains so attached until satisfied or time barred. Maritime liens take priority over registered mortgages, yet need not be registered themselves. What constitutes a maritime lien varies in different jurisdictions, although the various International Lien conventions may be applicable. Under English law, a claim is deemed to be a maritime lien according to the law of the place of arrest. Essentially, maritime liens under English law arise in respect of claims for damage done by the vessel to property or persons, salvage, crew wages, and wages and disbursements of the Master. Statutory liens include mortgages and claims in respect of goods...

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