Protection and Indemnity (‘P&I’) clubs are starting to issue guidance to members concerning the situation in the Gulf, where Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE have severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and closed airspace and ports to Qatari aircraft and vessels, and land borders.
On its website, the London P&I club has warned: ‘Members who already have existing contracts which require a call at Qatari ports should give careful consideration as to whether they will be able to fulfill the contract and/or whether they are legally obligated to proceed, if possible before loading any cargo. Further, whilst the current prohibitions are directed towards blocking Qatari flagged vessels from entering the Middle Eastern ports, there is a concern that the UAE may block foreign flagged vessels that have/will call in Qatar.’
It recommended that vessels considering calling at Qatari ports should ‘fully analyse’ the implications ‘before agreeing to do so and should be duly diligent in implementing suitable contractual provisions in charterparties and other contracts to try to either avoid such a call or deal with the consequences.’
Some lawyers are asking whether, if the rift between the regional neighbours continues, compliance with the de facto blockade would contravene US anti-boycott regulations.
In a tweet, President Donald Trump said: ‘So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off.’
A State Department spokesperson told WorldECR, ‘The United States’ relationship with Qatar is strong and we cooperate with Qatar in a number of areas, including in the fight against terror.
‘All of our partnerships in the Gulf are incredibly important and we count on the parties to find a way to resolve their differences sooner rather than later.’
On 7 June, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that the recent measures were ‘surprising’, describing them as ‘collective punishment’.
In an added twist, it has been reported that the rupture in relations was sparked by ‘fake news’ planted on the website of Qatar’s official press agency, possibly by Russian agencies.
Michelle Linderman of the London office of the law firm Crowell & Moring told WorldECR: ‘People who are operating in these areas are starting to ask some questions – for example, “What is the nature of these restrictions? Are they embargoes? Or sanctions? Will they implicate me, for example, as a ship owner or charterer?”’
Linderman said that EU and US clients have slightly different concerns. Linderman’s US colleague, Cari Stinebower said: ‘In the United States, there’s a question as to whether this triggers anti-boycott rules. So far, it’s been described as a break in diplomatic relations – but it could develop.’