A general introduction to the law and practice of navigation in Spain

All the questions

Shipping Industry Business Presentation

Spain has the longest coastline of any country in the European Union (8,000 kilometres)2 and offers a strategic position for communication between continents and seas, being located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

As of January 1, 2021, the Spanish merchant fleet comprised 215 vessels (109 registered under the Spanish flag) with a gross tonnage (GT) of 5,086,838 and a deadweight tonnage of 5,005,410.3 In recent years, Spanish ports have reached historical records in terms of cargo traffic with more than 500 million tons (544.5 million in 2021) and more than 37 million passengers transported (18 million in 2021).4 More than 2,500 people work in the Spanish maritime administration.5

More recently, the shipping industry has embraced stricter environmental regulations as its own challenge. In 2017, the Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments of 2004 (the Ballast Water Management Convention) entered into force. A new rule introduced by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), known as IMO 2020, entered into force on January 1, 2020, following an amendment to Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of pollution from ships (MARPOL).6 This rule mandates a maximum sulfur content of 0.5% in marine fuels globally, a significant reduction from the previous limit of 3.5%, as a measure to reduce sulfur oxide emissions.

Despite the covid-19 pandemic and the difficulties it has caused, four new ships have been received by Spanish shipping companies throughout 2021, bringing the tonnage of the fleet under Spanish control to more than 5.2 million GT.seven The Spanish private shipbuilding sector is mainly devoted to exports and its activity is concentrated in the industrial areas of Galicia, Asturias and the Basque Country. It enjoys an excellent international reputation for quality and tradition of construction and ensures high standards on technologically highly sophisticated vessels, such as those supporting offshore oil rigs, oceanographic research vessels and factory ships. However, the Spanish shipbuilding industry was strongly affected in 2020, reaching its lowest values ​​since 2015, with an 86% drop in GT compared to 2019 and making Spain the 10th largest shipbuilding country. of European Union vessels.8

Yachting is also an important business sector in Spain. In 2021, the yachting market increased by 17% compared to 2019, with more than 7,000 new registrations, a value not reached since 2008. The charter market bears witness to this trend with an increase in 2022 of 25% of registrations compared to 2019. , and 70% in 2021.9

These values, which have experienced strong market growth since 2018, unaffected by the covid-19 pandemic, show the success of the yachting sector in Spain. Super Yacht Refit is also a growing industry in Spain, especially in Barcelona and the Balearic Islands. The sector is complemented by a growing demand for superyacht marinas in Spain.

General overview of the legislative framework

As an EU member state, regulations and directives issued by the European Union are applicable in Spain either directly or through transposition laws. Likewise, the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) determines the modification and execution of domestic law.

At the national level, Spanish maritime legislation is mainly governed by Law 14/2014 of July 24, 2014 on maritime navigation (the Maritime Navigation Law (MNL)). It aims to ensure uniformity, avoiding the old dual provisions that existed on matters governed differently by international conventions and national legislation. Therefore, it normally refers to old conventions and applies them to national affairs as well. However, it also rules on matters not covered by international conventions and supplements.

The second main legal framework for maritime law in Spain is Royal Legislative Decree 2/2011, of September 5, 2011, which adopts the consolidated text of the National Ports and Merchant Navy Law (SPMML) and covers the fundamental issues of public Law. Other important rules are Law 22/1988, of July 28, 1988, on the coasts and Royal Decree 1027/1989, of July 28, 1989, on the flag and registration of ships.

There is currently a bill to modify the consolidated text of the SPMML and the MNL with the aim of solving the current important problems concerning the safety of life at sea, navigation and the protection of the marine environment, including the effectiveness of maritime and port authorities. .ten Likewise, it will introduce several new features, the most relevant of which are as follows:

  1. Spanish residents whose yachts are registered under the flag of other States will also be subject to Spanish regulations on safety and protection of the marine environment;
  2. the registration of yachts will undergo reforms; and
  3. in an important development for the maritime sector, and following the recommendation of the Spanish Association of Maritime Law, the obligation to lodge a counter-guarantee (currently a minimum of 15 percent) to seize ships will be abolished.