Expansive Reading in EU of Maritime Trade Law
(CN) - A Norwegian-owned Panamanian transport ship with some Russian crew still qualifies for privileges under EU law in trade with other member states, the European Court of Justice ruled.
The M/S Sava Star is a transport vessel that flies the Panamanian flag, owned by a Norwegian company, Fonnship, and crewed by Polish and Russian seamen.
The Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA) provides for the freedom to provide maritime transport services between states by nationals of member states, including nationals established in a third nonmember country.
But twice when the ship docked in a port of Sweden, a trade union there refused to load and unload the vessel. The Swedish dockworkers allegedly believed the Sava Star crew's wages, governed by a Russian trade union agreement, were not equitable.
Russia is not a member of the European Union.
On both occasions, Fonnship signed a collective agreement with the Swedish trade union, over the crew members' protests, so that the vessel could leave port.
Fonnship then sued the trade unions before the Swedish labor court for the interruption of its transport business, and the economic loss caused by the delays.
The Swedish court asked Europe's highest court, the European Court of Justice, whether the owner of a vessel flying a nonmember country's flag to is entitled free maritime transport between member states.
The Court of Justice concluded Tuesday that Fonnship, as the Norwegian owner of the Panamanian ship, may rely on the privileges granted EU members under the EEA, even though the vessel's crew is composed of third country nationals.
"The application of Regulation No 4055/86 is in no way affected by the fact that the vessel carrying out the maritime transport at issue, and on which the workers in whose favor that industrial action was taken are employed, flies the flag of a third country, nor by the fact that the crew members of the vessel are, as in the present case, third country nationals," the ruling states
"For Article 1(1) of Regulation No 4055/86 to be applicable, it is sufficient for a provider of the maritime transport service to be a national of a state that is a party to the EEA agreement who is established in a state that is a party to the EEA agreement other than that of the person from whom the services are intended," the Luxembourg-based court continued.