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Netherlands: Rotterdam District Court Poised to Handle All Dutch Shipping Disputes

(Mar. 18, 2016) The Ministry of Security and Justice of the Netherlands has drafted legislation, which has been approved by the Dutch Cabinet, to give the Rotterdam District Court exclusive jurisdiction in maritime cases. (Maritime Cases to Be Brought Before the Rotterdam District Court, GOVERNMENT.NL (Mar. 4, 2014); Concentration of Shipping Disputes at the Court of Rotterdam, Rotterdam Maritime Services website (last visited Mar. 15, 2016).) At present, cases are allocated to various district courts primarily “on the basis of territorial criteria,” with the domicile of the defendant often being the main criterion for the allocation, although in some cases the place where the maritime services at issue were performed is the determining factor.  (Concentration of Shipping Disputes at the Court of Rotterdam, supra.)

In the view of a Rotterdam organization of maritime service companies, “[a]s a result of the concentration of the maritime industry in and around the port of Rotterdam, the Court of Rotterdam already now is the ‘natural’ forum for the resolution of maritime disputes,” given that “many of these disputes are connected to the region and for this reason are allocated” to the Court. (Concentration of Shipping Disputes at the Court of Rotterdam, supra.)  The Ministry of Security and Justice has pointed out, moreover, that Rotterdam’s Court “has legal and substantive expertise in maritime cases and has a good reputation in this area” and because of that expertise is often the designated court in trade contracts between Dutch parties.  (Maritime Cases to Be Brought Before the Rotterdam District Court, supra.)

According to the text of the legislation that was made public for consultation in 2015, the aim of the change is to concentrate the handling of shipping business-related matters in the Rotterdam District Court, matters that include carriage of goods by sea or inland waterways, the operation of sea or inland vessels, and collision of ships. The Court would also address almost all cases involving “general average [assignment of proportional sharing of losses], towing and pushing, and limitation of liability for maritime claims.”  (Concentration of Shipping Disputes at the Court of Rotterdam, supra; Wetsvoorstel concentratie scheepvaartzaken [Bill on Concentration of Shipping Cases] (Consultation period of May 15, 2015 to June 26, 2015), INTERNETCONSULTATIE.) Under the proposed amendments, which affect various articles of the Dutch Civil Procedure Code, instead of the competence of the court being determined by territorial criteria, “the fact that the case concerns maritime or inland shipping law” is the decisive factor. (Concentration of Shipping Disputes at the Court of Rotterdam, supra; Wetsvoorstel concentratie scheepvaartzaken.)

The Cabinet will forward the draft legislation to the Council of State for advice. The text of the proposed changes and of the advisory comments will be made public upon their submission to the Dutch House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer).  (Maritime Cases to Be Brought Before the Rotterdam District Court, supra.)