The abandonment of recreational boats is a real and tangible phenomenon that occurs more frequently than one might think, with very negative and, generally, costly consequences.
What is more, the marina concessionary company with which the mooring is contracted, or the dry marina, are generally the parties that suffer the most, as they act as the depository of the boats. The consequences of this problem are accentuated when the shipowners are not citizens of the country where their boats are berthed.
There are currently hundreds of abandoned boats in different marinas in the country, a problem that increases significantly when the economy is truncated by periodic crises. And this is because, beyond the fact that the personal economic situation of a shipowner can be affected at any given time, sometimes even drastically, we must add other ancillary issues to this, such as the relentless increase in the price of fuel, the cost of revisions and inspections, the increase in the regulatory requirements on navigation elements, the periodic increase in the price of maritime taxes, etc. All of which makes it impossible for many yacht owners to take care of their boats, and they are forced to abandon them without even the slightest explanation.
Despite the above, there is hardly any specific legal regulation of this phenomenon, although it is expected that this situation will change soon.
Article 302 of Royal Legislative Decree 2/2011, of 5 September, which approves the Revised Text of the Law on State Ports and the Merchant Navy, states that when we talk about abandoned ships, we are referring to vessels that have remained for more than three months moored, anchored, or even on land, in the same place within the same port, and without having any type of externally appreciable activity on board. Abandoned ships which, in order to be catalogued and declared as such by the competent Port Authority, must also have failed to pay their corresponding fees and tariffs for at least three months.
After processing the corresponding procedure, and once the ship has been declared abandoned by the Port Authority, the latter will proceed: (i) either to its sale at public auction, paying the proceeds of the sale after subtracting the credits accrued in its favour for port taxes/fees and the costs of the procedure; (ii) or, to the sinking of the ship when, due to its condition, maritime safety reasons make it advisable to do so.
However, in this article we are referring to vessels abandoned in a port that is not a port of general interest, with indirect management by the administration as these are ports under concession. Consequently, the port authorities of the main port to which the concessioned port is attached are often opposed to initiating the administrative procedures for abandonment of vessels under Article 302 on the grounds, among others, that the procedure for abandonment of vessels is only applicable to vessels which are moored or anchored in a port under the direct management of the authority; that they cannot rule on the abandonment of a vessel when there is a contractual relationship between the concession holder and the owner of the vessel; or that the administrative procedure for the abandonment of vessels is only applicable to recover debts owed by the vessel to the port authorities (fees, tariffs, etc.) and not those owed to the concession holder in the context of a private contract.
In view of this, in the absence of a specific regulation in this respect to date, in the face of the “disappearance” of the yacht owner and the consequent non-payment of the services he has contracted, the current option available to marinas or suppliers to deal with these incidents is to initiate legal proceedings for breach of contract and claim for payment against the person who contracted the unpaid services (art.1124 of the Civil Code). This would be done either with the intervention of the shipowner in the process or in default, in case the shipowner does not comply with the injunction.
If the shipowner does not meet his obligations voluntarily once the marina/concessionary company obtains a favourable court ruling, the latter will have to initiate a second legal process to request the forced execution of the sentence in which it would have the option of seizing the vessel in order to promote its subsequent auction and public sale. With the sum obtained from this sale, and after payment of the debts incurred in the management of the auction, the rest of the debts existing up to that moment, including that of the port, would be settled. Another option could be for the concessionary company itself to be awarded the vessel, being able to dispose of it as it sees fit.
As instrumental measures to such a declaratory process, there would be two other legal options to be studied in each case:
- Exercise the right of retention of the vessel in the hands of the concessionaire by instituting a declaratory judgment (art. 1780 of the Civil Code).
- On the basis that the service contracting party is the registered owner of the vessel, proceed to the preventive seizure of the vessel by filing the measure before the competent court (art. 470 of the Maritime Navigation Act).
For the time being, this lack of regulation by state regulations has led some of the most affected autonomous communities, such as Valencia and the Balearic Islands, to publish their own specific regulations with the aim of speeding up and avoiding the serious problems of indebtedness and deterioration that vessels immobilised in port present, with the danger of pollution or that of navigation itself due to not being properly guarded or maintained.
This situation will hopefully change soon since, as announced on 1 March 2022, the amendment of the revised text of the Law on State Ports and the Merchant Navy and the Law on Maritime Navigation has been approved to bring it into line with current European regulations and, among other points, recreational boating activity will be dealt with and regulated in more detail. In fact, it is expected that the Maritime Navigation Law will add a new Chapter VII to the current Title X that specifically regulates the abandonment of recreational craft.
We can conclude, therefore, that currently the ways of managing abandonment situations are limited and costly, or are only regulated locally, so that in any case we advise seeking prior legal advice from a law firm specialised in the matter so that they can duly assist the affected parties.
Read article published here.