Arbitration Knowhow from James Clanchy FCIArb. London based arbitrator in independent practice

Arbitration Knowhow article

Maritime arbitration

Ad hoc versus institutional arbitration

A maritime arbitration is any arbitration which has some relation with a ship, whether it be the carriage of goods or passengers by sea, or the sale, building or chartering of a vessel.

Find more articles on related arbitration topics on my Arbitration Knowhow page.

Maritime arbitration

A maritime arbitration is any arbitration which has some relation with a ship, whether it be the carriage of goods or passengers by sea, the sale of a second-hand ship, the building of a new one, or the chartering of a superyacht or offshore support vessel.  

With its variety and range, maritime arbitration is the quintessence of international commercial arbitration. It falls squarely in the definitions of ‘international’ and ‘commercial’ in Article 1 of the UNCITRAL Model Law and it is found all over the world, in institutions as well as in its traditional ad hoc form.  

In London, maritime outnumber non-maritime commercial arbitrations. The numbers of ad hoc arbitrations conducted under the Terms and Procedures of the London Maritime Arbitrators Association (LMAA) consistently exceed the caseloads of international arbitral institutions. In 2018, the LMAA’s estimated total number of references (1561) was exactly equal to the sum of the International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC), London Court of International Arbitration’s (LCIA) and the Singapore International Arbitration Centre’s (SIAC) new cases added together. See my LexisNexis Blog post Arbitration statistics 2018: London bucks downward trends.

Despite its centrality in international commerce, its scale and diversity, maritime arbitration often finds itself marginalised in gatherings of arbitration practitioners and confined to footnotes in textbooks, learned articles, surveys, rules and guidelines. See my ICMA XX 2017 paper, Regulation of arbitration: where it comes from, who it is for, and its impact on maritime arbitrators.

Some commentators on international commercial arbitration treat maritime arbitration as a specialised sector-based form of arbitration of interest only to the shipping industry. However, the cargo loaded on ships is not comprised of other ships and ships are not built by their crews. The reality is that maritime arbitration is open to all parties who encounter ships, which means anyone involved in international trade.  

It has been used for centuries, even millennia. Venice, Genoa, New York and Paris (where I practised in the early 1990s) have all been significant centres at one time or another and the latter two remain active. Singapore (where I am a member of the SCMA panel) and Dubai (where I am a member of the EMAC panel) are looking to become important seats in the 21st century.

London remains the most popular seat for international commercial arbitration in shipping disputes. Its large number of cases creates a virtuous circle of expertise, certainty, and cost effectiveness.

Arbitrators who deal with maritime cases in London will often do it full-time or, like me, will have other occupations which do not conflict with that activity. It is extremely rare for them to be partners in law firms. Many still come from professions outside the law. Diversity of profession and background can be valuable on arbitral tribunals but it is increasingly under threat, notably in non-maritime commercial arbitrations. See my presentation, Non-lawyer arbitrators: an endangered species? (Powerpoint presentation).

Every two or three years, maritime arbitrators and other participants in maritime arbitration from around the world gather for the International Congress of Maritime Arbitrators (ICMA). I reflected on ICMA XX in Copenhagen in September 2017 in my LexisNexis Blog post ICMA 2017: if winter is coming the answer is hygge. I quoted Lord Mustill who delivered the first Cedric Barclay lecture at ICMA X in Vancouver in 1991: ‘The voice of maritime arbitration is not heard as it should be. Too little is said to those who ought to be listening, about its practices, its importance and its theory.’

As an Aspiring Full Member of the LMAA, I accept appointments on its Terms, and under the LMAA Small Claims Procedure, from parties and from the President of the LMAA.

Click the link below to download James Clanchy's CV as a PDF.