Greek Shipowners Consider Exodus
Greek shipowners facing proposed higher taxes due to the Greek financial crisis are considering an exodus from the country, which would be a blow to the economy and Greek ports such as the Port of Piraeus, pictured above.

The Greek shipping industry will have to sustain additional taxes according to a proposed bailout agreement. Greek shipowners already agreed to voluntarily pay an additional tonnage tax from 2014-2017 to help the embattled economic crisis. However, the Greek government says that isn’t enough and plans to further increase the tonnage tax (a flat annual rate based on a ship’s capacity), and will also cut other tax advantages that have been accorded to shipowners for years.

Greek shipowners are therefore having to weigh their options, and many state that if these measures are enacted they will have to consider relocating to other shipping-friendly places such as Cyprus, London, Singapore and Dubai. In fact, Hong Kong, Singapore, London and Cyprus have sent delegations to lobby disgruntled shipowners. Cyprus has had the most success by recently luring 42 Greek shipping companies to their country. The Central Bank of Cyprus stated that revenues from shipping have increased 9.3% (approximately $491 million) in the past year.

Greece’s unemployment rate is now above 25%, and the Greek shipping industry currently employs about 200,000 people, representing about 3.5% of the country’s workforce. The shipping industry makes up about 7.5% of the already dwindling Greek economy. It is anticipated that the continued exodus of Greek shipowners would cause a blow to the industry and to the economy as a number of people would lose their jobs.

New Orleans Attorney Joanne Mantis


Guest blogger Joanne Mantis is a multilingual attorney in the New Orleans office of King, Krebs & Jurgens. She is admitted to both the Louisiana and Greek Bar, and represents a variety of clients both domestically and internationally. She has previously blogged for Offshore Winds regarding the Greek Tonnage Tax.

Greece has finally imposed a tonnage tax on foreign-flagged vessels operated by shipping companies in Greece. It already had been taxing Greek-flagged ships, and the nation’s debt crisis left the government with no other choice than to tax foreign-flagged ships in an attempt to help raise its revenues. The government is hoping it will raise at least $106 million from the levy.

The Greek state is targeting an estimated 762 managers with the new laws, which went into effect as of January 2013. Fortunately, ship owners and management companies’ ship earnings are excluded from the tax, as it only applies to the tonnage of their ships.

The Greek Ministry of Finance has issued the following guidelines as to who is liable for this new tax and how to calculate it:

  • The tax is levied on ships managed by companies in Greece which own foreign-flagged vessels.
  • The tax will be calculated using the gross tonnage of the vessel and the age of the vessel.
  • The tax will be calculated in U.S. Dollars and converted into and paid in Euros.
  • The foreign ship owner and the ship management office will be jointly liable for payment of the tax.
  • The responsibility for filing the tax return lies with the ship owner, the ship manager and their representatives or their attorneys-in-fact.
  • The annual return must be filed by the end of February for the previous calendar year; 25% of the tonnage tax assessed must be paid at the time the return is filed (February) with the remaining 75% paid in three equal installments due in June, September, and December.

The first year the tax was implemented was for 2012, meaning to be in compliance with the new law, 2012 taxes should have been filed by the end of this past February, with additional payments made in June, this month and in December 2013. Ship owners or ship managers that have not yet filed their 2012 tonnage tax will accrue a 1.5% monthly penalty fee (interest) which will be added to their outstanding taxes for filing untimely. If Greek authorities feel that an owner cannot pay his taxes, they could revert to arresting the vessel, but this extreme measure is unlikely to be implemented. Those needing further guidance should contact their attorney and accountant.

The Union of Greek Ship Owners (EEE) informed its members that it had reached an agreement with the government to implement an extraordinary additional voluntary contribution to the tonnage tax, in addition to the mandatory amount owed, for the next three years. This voluntary tax applies to Greek-owned shipping companies, whether they have Greek- or foreign-flagged ships. This contribution is voluntary, but the Union hopes that many ship owners will participate to help increase the government’s revenues.

New Orleans Attorney Joanne Mantis

Guest blogger Joanne Mantis is an attorney in the New Orleans office of King, Krebs & Jurgens. She is a member of both the Louisiana and Greek Bar, and represents a variety of maritime clients both domestically and internationally.

 

 

The scenario may be all too familiar. A vessel owner is involved in a commercial relationship with a valuable customer, when a marine casualty involving the vessel occurs. The customer makes a written demand on the vessel owner to pay the costs of repair plus consequential damages. Liability on the part of the vessel owner is not a lock, but fairly clear. The quantum of damages is substantial, but the potential consequential damages are uncertain. Settlement negotiations are ongoing, and partial payments are made. Moreover, there is always the commercial relationship to consider. At what point should the vessel owner file a complaint for limitation of its liability, pursuant to the Shipowners’ Limitation of Liability Act, or risk it being found untimely for failure to file within six months of receipt of a written claim?

In In re: Marquette Transportation Company, L.L.C., No. 12 – 31182 (5th Cir. May 31, 2013), the Fifth Circuit concluded that if the customer’s initial demand letter revealed a “reasonable probability” that the claim will exceed the value of the vessel, then the vessel owner must file the limitation complaint within six months of receipt of that letter. “When there is uncertainty as to whether a claim will exceed the vessel’s value, the reasonable possibility standard places the risk and the burdens associated with that risk on the owner.”  Id. at 4. As I have previously cautioned, “If in doubt, file the Complaint for Limitation of Liability.”

Under the particular facts of this case, Great Lakes’ dredge ran aground while under the tow of Marquette’s tug, requiring repairs that were not completed until 17 days later. On February 24, 2011, Great Lakes made a written demand on Marquette, stating Marquette was negligent and that Great Lakes would hold Marquette responsible for repairs in excess of $600,000, as well as consequential damages. The parties engaged in settlement negotiations, and reimbursement for certain repairs were made, but it was not until December 7, 2011, that Great Lakes finalized its calculations of its consequential damages, and made written demand on Marquette in excess of $4.5 million. Within six months of receipt of the December letter, Marquette filed its limitation complaint and posted a bond for the limitation fund in the amount of $2.1 million.

The district court and Fifth Circuit concluded that Marquette should have filed the limitation complaint within six months of receipt of the initial demand letter, even though the quantum of consequential damages was uncertain. As a result, Marquette’s limitation complaint was dismissed as untimely.

When seeking construction financing for a proposed newbuilding, shipowners should understand and be prepared to address the particular concerns that lenders have in assessing risk and documenting vessel construction projects.

When deciding whether to approve a construction financing loan, lenders focus on certain key factors:

  • Does the shipyard have the requisite experience, manpower and financial wherewithal to complete the project?  To address this concern, shipowners should deal only with established builders with proven records of successfully completing vessel construction projects, preferably involving the type of vessel to be financed.
  • What is the credit strength of the shipowner?  If the lender will not be financing the entire cost of construction, the shipowner must be able to show that it can fund any unfinanced portion of the cost as well as any owner furnished equipment.  As with any loan, the financial strength and operating experience of the shipowner also will be important to the lender’s assessment of the shipowner’s ability to operate the vessel profitably and make debt service payments.
  • Is the shipowner overpaying for the vessel?  Shipowners should be prepared to demonstrate that the construction cost is in line with vessels of similar type. Prudent lenders consult with appraisers to help them evaluate the cost.
  • How strong will the market demand for the vessel be?  As with any business loan, the lender will want to see realistic and verifiable projections of the vessel’s earning potential after construction.  In optimal cases, a ship is constructed for a specific customer of the shipowner and committed under long-term services agreements or charters with firm competitive terms.

Once the lender has agreed to go forward with financing, it is a best practice to involve the lender in the negotiation of the construction contract so that issues that will be important to the lender can be addressed up front.   Nonetheless, in many instances, the shipbuilding contract already has been signed before the shipowner seeks financing.  In those cases, lenders will want to review the contract and may requests amendments to protect the lender’s interests.  Items of particular concern to lenders include:

  • when title passes to the shipowner;
  • the shipbuilder’s obligation to certify as to completion of milestones;
  • the scope of the shipbuilder warranties;
  • the progress payment schedule;
  • provisions relating to documentation of the vessel;
  • builder indemnities against lien claims of subcontractors as well personal injury, property damage and pollution claims arising during construction;
  • the adequacy of insurance coverage during construction; and
  • assignability of the contract as security for the loan.

In the typical construction loan transaction, the lender will take an assignment of the construction contract to secure repayment of the loan.  Under this assignment, if the shipowner defaults in repayment of the loan during construction, the lender will be entitled to take title to the vessel upon completion and sell the vessel to cover its loses on the loan.   The lender will also require that the builder consent to this assignment and agree to subordinate any lien it has in the vessel to the mortgage and other security interests taken by the lender.

As construction progresses, the lender will make advances for progress payments, which are usually repaid on an interest-only basis, until the vessel is completed.  To make these interim advances, lenders usually require supporting documentation that may include:

  • a shipbuilder’ certification that the milestone for which the progress payment is being made has been achieved;
  • invoices of the shipbuilder and other vendors or subcontractors for labor, material and equipment covered by such milestone;
  • releases of any liens in favor of any vendors, materialmen, or subcontractors the cost of whose services, work, equipment or materials is included in the advance;
  • a shipowner-certified advance request;
  • surveys, appraisals, certifications or other documents that a lender may require to establish that the advance is for a purpose authorized under the loan documents;
  • if an advance is made to reimburse the shipowner for owner-furnished equipment, proof of payment of the expenditures for which reimbursement is sought,

Once the vessel is completed, the construction-phase interim loan will convert to permanent term financing secured by a preferred ship mortgage on the vessel.  This conversion usually occurs in connection with the payment of the final milestone payment under the contract and delivery of the vessel.  At that time, the lender will require delivery of:

  • a term promissory note executed by the shipowner;
  • an Application for Documentation [form CG-1258];
  • Builder’s Certification and First Transfer of Title Document [form CG-1261] signed by the builder;
  • a Warranty Bill of Sale executed by the builder;
  • a Delivery and Acceptance Certificate, evidencing physical delivery of the vessel to the shipowner;
  • a preferred ship mortgage executed by the shipowner in favor of the lender; and
  • a certificate of insurance evidencing the coverages [hull and machinery, P&I, mortgagee’s interest] required by the preferred mortgage.

Depending on the structure of the deal, the lender may require other security documents such as a security agreement, assignment of charter hire and earnings and/or assignment of insurance policies.  The lender will require that the shipowner and shipbuilder coordinate the documentation of the vessel with the Coast Guard with the lender’s contemporaneous filing of its preferred ship mortgage, so that mortgage interest attaches at the time of documentation.

 

A recurring issue in personal injury litigation is the amount of medical expenses a plaintiff is entitled to recover from the defendant.  The health care providers charge or bill the plaintiff for the treatment provided, but typically accept as payment in full significantly less from health insurers or the government.  The health insurers or government typically are protected via liens against the plaintiff’s recovery up to the amount they paid on behalf of the plaintiff.  Moreover, except for a potential deductible or co-payment, the plaintiff is not “out of pocket” any significant sum.  Yet, defendants often confront what is the proper recovery for the plaintiff’s medical expenses:  (1) the amount billed by the health care provider or (2) the amount accepted by the health care provider from third parties plus any deductible or co-pay by the plaintiff.  It does not strain the imagination to realize that awards based on the invoiced amount will result in a windfall to the plaintiff based on the spread between the amount billed and the amount accepted by the health care provider.

In Manderson v. Chet Morrison Contractors Inc., No. 10 – 31063 (5th Cir. Jan. 3, 2012), the U.S. Fifth Circuit reiterated that an injured seaman may recover cure (medical care) only for those medical expenses actually incurred.  In determining the seaman’s recovery for unpaid cure, the recoverable quantum is the amount “needed to satisfy the seaman’s medical charges.  This applies whether the charges are incurred by a seaman’s insurer on his behalf and then paid at a written-down rate, or incurred and then paid by the seaman himself, including at a non-discounted rate.”

The Fifth Circuit observed that the collateral source rule appeared incompatible with the obligation of Chet Morrison Contractors (“CMC”), the vessel owner, to provide cure to Manderson, an engineer, who was allegedly injured or became ill on CMC’s vessel.  Note:  In the same opinion, the Fifth Circuit had affirmed the district court’s denial of Manderson’s claims against CMC for negligence under the Jones Act or for unseaworthiness of the vessel under the general maritime law.

Generally speaking, the vessel owner’s obligations to pay maintenance (food and lodging during recuperation) and cure were implied in the contract of employment with the seaman, and did not depend on any determination of fault on the part of the vessel owner.  In contrast, the collateral source rule barred a tort defendant from reducing the quantum of damages owed to a personal injury / wrongful death plaintiff by the amount of recovery the plaintiff received from sources collateral to, or independent of, the defendant.  Under the general maritime law the collateral source rule has not been strictly applied to a seaman’s claims for maintenance and cure, which are owed irrespective of the vessel owner’s fault.  However, the Fifth Circuit previously recognized that “[W]here a seaman has alone purchased medical insurance, the ship owner is not entitled to a set-off from the maintenance and cure obligation moneys the seaman receives from his insurer.”

The Fifth Circuit recognized that a different result would have occurred had Manderson been pursuing a tort claim against CMC for which CMC would have been liable for compensatory damages.  Nevertheless, because CMC was liable to Manderson only for maintenance and cure, the bar of the collateral source rule was inapplicable.  As a result, Manderson’s recovery from CMC for breach of its cure obligation was reduced to the amount Manderson’s insurers actually paid his health care providers.  He was not entitled to recover the full amount billed by his health care providers.