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Supreme People’s Court issues judicial interpretation on cases involving ship crew disputes


On Sept 27, the Supreme People's Court (SPC) issued the Regulations on Several Issues in Trying Cases Involving Ship Crew Disputes, effective as of Sept 29, 2020.


The regulations with 21 articles explicitly stipulate the issues to be urgently resolved in maritime juridical practices, such as the affirmation and solutions of different legal relations between ship crew labor contracts, service contracts and brokerage contracts concerning ship crew disputes, the confirmation, exercise and transfer of maritime liens, the composition and legal protection of ship crew wages and remuneration, whether wages must be protected in cases of illegal operation by crew members, the undertaking of liability for tort in the condition of service, the interrelation between work-related injury insurance and civil damages in the event of occupational injury, and applicable laws of contracts for foreign-related labor services.


In accordance with the judicial interpretation, for the ship crew's labor contract disputes that are unrelated to the ship crew's embarkation, on-board work and disembark repatriation, that is, when maritime lien is not involved in the disputes, the parties involved shall be notified to handle the disputes according to the legal procedures of first attempting arbitration and then moving to litigation and if necessary to an appeal in accordance with the provisions of the Law of the People's Republic of China on Mediation and Arbitration of Labor Disputes. Ship crew's service contract disputes don't fall within labor disputes, so such disputes shall still be accepted by maritime courts with jurisdiction, according to the judicial interpretation.


For ship crew's request to confirm maritime lien rather than arrest a ship, the judicial interpretation stipulates that maritime courts shall uphold the ship crew's application for confirmation of maritime lien rather than seizure of the ship. The judicial interpretation also stipulates that the limitation period of the ship crew's application is one year from the date when priority is generated.


Should wages and remuneration of ship crew be protected in case of illegal operation? Concerning such a relatively controversial issue in maritime judicial practices, in order to balance the guarantee of ship crew's lawful rights and interests and the increasingly severe pressure on the protection of the ecological environment, the judicial interpretation stipulates that if ship crew were cheated or intimidated to conduct illegal operation, their claim for related wages and other remuneration shall be upheld. If the ship owner proves that crew members acted voluntarily and were fully aware of the illegal operation, their claim shall not be upheld.


The SPC started the preliminary preparation of judicial interpretation as early as 2015. Formulating and issuing judicial interpretation not only meets the demand to solve the problem of non-uniform judgment standards in judicial practices, but also helps to maintain lawful rights and interests of parties involved and regulate and guide the ship crew market and shipping market order. It's also greatly significant for facilitating and guaranteeing the country's construction of a higher level of new open economic system, implementation of the maritime power strategy, and Belt and Road Initiative promotion, said an official of the Civil Adjudication Tribunal No.4 of the SPC.