OW Bunkers collapse – Legal position in France

This is a series of pieces based on Shipowners’ Club recent set of articles on the global legal impact of the collapse of OW Bunkers last year, and the subsequent debate on whether owners owed money to the liquidator or to the physical supplier of goods. Law firm Holman Fenwick Willan provided much of the technical detail.

In the context of ship arrests, the French Courts of Appeal have rendered conflicting decisions relating to OW Bunkers and other bunker suppliers, and the Supreme Court is yet to rule.

The two main issues are: (i) whether both the physical suppliers and OW Bunkers/ING bank can arrest a vessel. (ii) whether a ship can be arrested to secure a maritime claim against a former charterer/sub charterer, when the claimant has no lien on the vessel.

Different decisions have been reached on both points by different French courts, with some French jurisdictions/Courts protecting Owners’ interests while others have proved favourable to bunker suppliers.

Some Courts held that, to have the arrest lifted, owners had to provide the claimant with a guarantee payable against presentation of a Court decision ordering the former charterer to pay the claimant, or even against a mere declaration of the claimant’s claim in the former charterer’s insolvency procedure.

This can result in Owners paying the debts of a former charterer (or sub charterer), without any possible recourse against the real debtor.