By R. Bruce Striegler

For five days in May, Vancouver hosted the 18th International Congress of Maritime Arbitrators (ICMA). From May 13 to 18, approximately 300 participants from countries including Japan, Nigeria, Singapore, France and Denmark discussed arbitration decisions from around the world. There were 16 separate sessions with 44 individual papers discussed. The agenda at this year’s congress included ‘New Development of China Maritime Arbitration Commission’, ‘Piracy During a Time Charter’, and ‘Hire, War Risks and Other Animals’. From the United Kingdom, speakers discussed ‘Shipbuilding Contracts and the Credit Crunch’, while another presentation covered ‘Facts and Myths on the Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in Nigeria.’

Established in 1972, ICMA provides a forum for maritime arbitrators, lawyers and the shipping industry from around the world. It is a place to deliberate on and exchange news and views of mutual interest. ICMA is neither a formal organization nor a legal entity. It does not have an office. There are no members. It is just a series of conferences held every two or three years. ICMA congresses have grown, hosting delegates from an average of 26 countries who present approximately 50 papers.

Arbitration is the settlement of disputes between parties who agree not to go before the court, but accept as final the decision of dispute resolvers of their choice, in a place of their choice usually subject to laws agreed upon in advance and usually under rules which avoid much of the formalities, niceties, proof and procedure required by the courts. Maritime disputes usually span international borders, and the reluctance of parties of international contracts to submit to foreign national courts emphasizes the importance of arbitration in the maritime field. Marine arbitration is an old and venerated tradition, with its origins traced as far back as the voyages of ships owned by ancient Phoenicians carrying cargoes of Greek traders.

The Vancouver conference was organized by the Vancouver Maritime Arbitrators Association, and President Peter Swanson commented, “The maritime sector has always been a world leader in international alternative dispute resolution, and not surprisingly, the two main centres of arbitration are London and New York. This year, topics of special interest to our participants include contract chartering arrangements, the impacts of piracy and armed guards on ships.”

New standard contract to use armed guards

The issue of armed guards on ships has taken on new significance since the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) earlier this year published its much-anticipated GUARDCON contract. It is a brand new agreement, developed to provide shipowners a standard contract for the employment of security guards on vessels. It is a clearly-worded and comprehensive standard contract to govern the employment and use of security guards, with or without firearms.

The standardized contract is in response to shipowners increasing demand for security services and an ever-growing number of private maritime security companies entering the market. In the absence of a standard contract for these services, shipowners and their protection and indemnity (P&I) clubs were faced with a time-consuming and difficult task of assessing the large number of contracts from security firms.

In general, the privacy and confidentiality of arbitration makes it a desirable method of resolving international maritime disputes since maritime commerce often involves sophisticated commercial bodies like shipping companies, not consumers. These entities usually have an incentive to prevent the terms of their commercial relationships being disclosed to third parties.