After Action Report: 2015 North Sea International Maritime Conference in bright and cheerful Cuxhaven, Germany

After Action Report: 2015 North Sea International Maritime Conference in bright and cheerful Cuxhaven, Germany

Following a whirlwind of a conference on the 19th and 20th of March 2015 in Cuxhaven, we now have a solid foundation for future events and are glad to see an emerging global professional maritime and shipping network right here in our own beautiful town.

Do you want to speak or help organize next year? Be sure to get in touch:

Day One: 19th of March 2015

The gathering with the United States Consul Michael Gray at the State Maritime College was a resounding success, however, and good spirits prevailed as we heard a variety of excellent, well informed speakers provide a run down of Cuxhaven and its maritime economy.

Cuxhaven Port Association Chairman Peter Zint amazed everybody by his description of the various cargo handling operations, from roll on/roll off cargo to heavy lift and project cargo to dry bulk. The ambitious expansion of Cuxhaven's port with the addition of new piers and work areas made it clear that new jobs and development are both on the way.

Lord Mayor Dr. Ulrich Getsch discussed the various challenges and peaks and troughs that Cuxhaven has faced in recent times, from the bust in the offshore industry to its gradual, more reliable resurgence in recent years. He also spent time on tourism, one of the major contributors to Cuxhaven's prosperity, which thrives on 3.5 million overnight stays per year. Of course, it is thanks to tourism, in the off season, that we were able to make use of some truly excellent hotel facilities for the purposes of our conference - a fact for which we are very grateful!

Director Rudolf Rothe of the State Maritime College also spoke on the 19th and gave insight into the workings, structure and purpose of the institution as both of focal point for Cuxhaven's maritime community as well as a vital piece of the fishing industry. Indeed, it is the State Maritime College in Cuxhaven that is the only school in Germany providing fishery licenses. But the school has state of the art merchant marine equipment as well, including brand new ship simulators and - of course - global reach through the German American Maritime Institute. These connections rival some universities, while always maintaining the practical connection.

U.S. Consul Michael Gray was the last to speak and he simply expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to get to know Cuxhaven. He said that he had fallen in love with the city and would happily return. We were also somewhat surprised when he set aside his prepared remarks to share his genuine surprise and delight and the warm and welcoming community he had gotten to know. We certainly look forward to building up this relationship during Mr. Gray's three year term.

The evening dinner at Donner's Hotel, which rounded off the 19th, was a huge success and provided an intimate atmosphere for students, speakers, teachers and industry representatives. We felt this was an essential component in establishing rapport amongst the participants, who were also getting to know each other for the first time. By the end of the evening, it felt like we were all friends and easing into the next day seemed like a completely natural transition.

I would definitely not have missed the dinner for anything.

Day Two: 20th of March 2015 - Morning Session

The second day was inaugurated by Lord Mayor Dr. Ulrich Getsch. His rugged, frank and direct manner seemed almost like an embodiment of the no-nonsense, mercantile spirit of Cuxhaven. We were off to a rolling start and from here, we maintained the momentum.

Dr. Sarah Fiona Gahlen, Vice President of the German American Maritime Institute and a scholar at the University of Kiel's Institute of International Law led off the professional lectures by delving into vivid case law examples of captain's liability. From civil to criminal claims, we learned just how risky it often can be to be in charge of a vessel. To add an additional layer of concern, Dr. Gahlen illuminated aspects of newly passed environmental legislation. More liability and more paperwork for captains to manage has been the trend for some time now, and there appears to be no reversal in sight, even with more support from shore office staff at larger companies.

Taco van der Valk, Partner at AKD and President of the Dutch Maritime and Transport Law Association then shocked and awed all of us by putting pictures of the MSC Joanna and WD Fairway collision onto the overhead projector - ship collisions and the attendant liability instilled appropriate levels of fear into the dozens of State Maritime College students listening. From securing claims against and arresting ships of the tortfeasor to setting up crisis management teams and protocols, we were confronted with some of the most graphic depictions of ship-on-ship violence known to the industry outside of the realm of armed conflict. All of us left this presentation smarter and wiser, and we will be sure to follow traffic directions diligently.

Erik Kravets, Partner at Kravets & Kravets and President of the German American Maritime Institute next spent time explaining that evidence is the prerequisite both to defend against and exercise a claim - it is the sine qua non of liability. And so, after explaining differences in treatment of evidence in litigation and arbitration, Mr. Kravets broke down types of evidence - from witnesses to expert opinions to documents - and treated upon their use and deployment in accordance with both U.S. and German procedural law. The goal was to provide insight to mariners as to what they action they need to take to make or break a given claim.

Emily Dérogé-van Roosmalen of the Dutch Legal Network for Shipping and Transport provided the lunch keynote titled "Home Is Where The Arbitration Is", an appeal to industry actors to leave arbitration in their home jurisdictions, because familiarity trumps everything - at the end of the day, it's about staying true to your good neighbors, not going abroad where there are unfamiliar people making decisions based on unfamiliar rules. The particular tendency to default to English arbitration merely because this is expected came under attack by Ms. Dérogé-van Roosmalen. She said that English arbitration is not "one size fits all" and that one must always carefully examine whether going to London is, in fact, not just the default, but also the correct choice.

Day Two: 20th of March - Afternoon Session

What is a conference without a roundtable? King Arthur needed one, too!

Professor Jason Chuah, Head of the Academic Law Department and Executive Director of the London Universities Maritime and Transport Law and Policy Group led off with a spirited explanation of the many attractive facets of London arbitration, from the renewed focus on cost to the broad market acceptance as well as to the openness of London arbitration to "commercial men" from other nations and jurisdictions. Everybody, so Professor Chuah's argument, could obtain affordable and reliable justice under London arbitration. We especially enjoyed Professor Chuah's live survey (done via in-room text messaging) about what is the biggest barrier to arbitrating a dispute in London. It turned out that legal fees led the way, followed by transport and lodging. I wonder what the results will look like in 2016?

Dennis Cammarano, Managing Partner of Cammarano Law Group and also the Secretary of the United States Maritime Law Association Carriage of Goods by Sea Committee next spent time comparing and contrasting litigation in U.S. federal court vs. arbitration. Mr. Cammarano delved into details such as compelling witnesses to testify to obtaining discovery. His unflaggingly practical approach - which perhaps slightly favored litigation over arbitration - was dispassionate and insightful and drew perhaps the greatest surprise on the point of costs. While most people expect U.S. litigation to be expensive, this is not due to court fees, which are frequently under $1,000.00. Arbitration in the U.S., on the other hand, assesses fees on the "European model" of using dispute value as the basis for calculation.

Wiebke Harke, Insurance and Claims Manager at Hamburg Süd, one of Germany's foremost shipping lines hashed out what arbitration and litigation look like from the industry perspective. Whether or not the B/L states that a given jurisdiction applies, she said, Hamburg Süd faces claims from all over the world and must defend itself globally. As a result, where to litigate or arbitrate is frequently only of interest to academics - it is not a practical approach because wherever the lawsuit is being filed is where Hamburg Süd will need to defend its interests. We enjoyed this dose of reality from the perspective of a globally operating company.

Attorney Esther Mallach, Partner at Dabelstein & Passehl and Attorney Taco van der Valk briefly discussed their home arbitration systems and, in particular, Ms. Mallach pointed out that arbitration in Hamburg at the German Maritime Arbitration Association can also be subject to foreign law (e.g. English or American) and be conducted in foreign (non-German) languages. She added that the high degree of impartiality and professionalism of GMAA arbitrators should be considered and that there was less uncertainty in this regard compared with state courts, who may not always deal with shipping cases on a regular basis.

Day Two: 20th of March - Group Sessions

Although "group sessions" sounds like it, this is not therapy - we had Ms. Mallach in one room discussing crew and passenger claims with respect to principles of liability for personal injury under German law. Her main insight was that damage awards are surprisingly low in Germany compared e.g. with the United States, and that even grievous injuries may not yield significant payouts. The statutory occupational accident insurance in Germany is also a unique element, and we learned about what conduct is covered and what specific benefits this insurance will provide. We also learned that in spite of this insurance system, direct claims are possible against the employer in certain instances. Thinking about this issue from both sides, then, is still necessary.

Attorney Julia Constantino Chagas Lessa, an instructor at City University of London and an expert in seafarer's rights taught us about the new Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) in the other room. Both students and shipowners were in attendance and the reaction to some of the requirements for ships under the new MLC - like the implementation of recreational areas even on small tugboats - caused quite a stir. But the MLC, for all of its irritations, is already very much a reality. New contracts, disclosure requirements that are imposed on shipowners and new possibilities for seafarers to exercise claims (e.g. when it comes to repatriation) will continue to demand the attention of our professional practices going forward into the coming years.

Conclusion and Look Ahead

All in all, the conference was a success. We had incredibly high profile speakers, whose intelligent and insightful comments were a true enrichment for all. We were overwhelmed to have received so many distinguished guests in Cuxhaven and to hear that their stay was not only pleasant, but wonderful, and that many would gladly attend again next year.

And our reply, of course, is that we will gladly offer the conference again next year.

As to the venue, we think it was a resounding success, and we intend to place ourselves again into the more than capable hands of Mr. John Weber and his skilled team. From the view out the window onto enormous container vessels passing by to the effortless management of refreshments and food of the highest quality, Donner's Hotel was perfect.

So, we very much look forward to seeing all of you in Cuxhaven in early 2016!

Maritime law in London: 6th annual City University conference leaves us with a diversity of impressions

Maritime law in London: 6th annual City University conference leaves us with a diversity of impressions

Conference photos are now available!

Conference photos are now available!