Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

UK ports face Russia sanctions compliance challenge

Out-Law Legal Update | 03 Mar 2022 | 1:17 pm | 1 min. read

UK port operators will face practical challenges in identifying which ships to refuse entry to after new sanctions affecting them were imposed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an expert has said.

Francis Tyrrell of Pinsent Masons was commenting after the UK government introduced new legislation aimed at preventing Russian vessels from entering UK ports.

The new legislation applies to ships owned, controlled, chartered or operated by persons connected with Russia; ships registered in Russia; ships flying the flag of Russia; ships specified as to be banned from UK port entry by the UK authorities; and ships owned, controlled, chartered or operated by individuals designated as UK sanctions targets.

Francis Tyrrell

Francis Tyrrell

Partner

The breadth of this new legislation presents some difficult challenges for harbour authorities up and down the country

The introduction of legislation comes after transport secretary Grant Shapps wrote to UK ports on Monday and “asked” them to take steps to prevent access to Russian vessels.

Tyrrell said the letter had put port operators in a difficult position, since they were not – at that stage – legally entitled to prevent access due to their open port duty.

The new legislation overrides the open access duty, which Tyrrell said is helpful, but he identified remaining challenges for port operators to address.

“The UK has put in place strict measures to ban Russian vessels from UK ports, but the breadth of this new legislation presents some difficult challenges for harbour authorities up and down the country,” Tyrrell said.

“The ban extends to ‘ships owned, part-owned, controlled, chartered or operated by persons connected with Russia’, which is extremely broad and is likely to prove very hard for a harbour authority to identify. That would include circumstances where someone ordinarily resident in Russia has any beneficial interest in the ship or a share of the ship, no matter how small. Under the legislation, it is a criminal offence to allow access to such a ship so the crucial factor will be whether the harbour authority has ‘reasonable cause to suspect’ such a beneficial interest in the ship or share in the ship to refuse access,” Tyrrell said.

“Although the government has said that they will support UK ports in identifying relevant ships, other than simply relying on information provided by the shipping agents, who themselves may not know, it is difficult to see what else the harbour authorities can do,” Tyrrell said.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Shapps said: “Putin and his allies must feel the full consequences of their vicious and illegal invasion of Ukraine. That’s why from today, I’m instructing all UK ports to turn away any vessel that is flagged, registered, owned, or operated by Russia. By banning Russian ships from our ports, we are further isolating Russia and crushing its economic capabilities, starving Putin’s war machine.”

Russia-Ukraine crisis
Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 shocked the world and had immediate economic and political consequences. We track and analyse the implications of the situation as it develops.
Russia-Ukraine crisis