A NEW GENERATION OF SUPERYACHT LAWYERS

Anouch Sedef is a superyacht lawyer and partner at the aviation and superyacht boutique law firm of Meyer Avocats in Geneva, Switzerland. Anouch started her career, 10 years ago, as a solicitor in London with a superyacht law firm based in the
City. In our interview with her, she explains the role of a lawyer in the superyacht industry, what it takes to be a good one and how she envisages the job.

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How did you become a superyacht lawyer and what is your role?
A superyacht lawyer is a specialty within the specialty accomplishing their projects. The superyacht industry is very special and niche. It is very protective and conservative, yet at the same time is also creative and expanding. The professionals of the industry have had to evolve alongside the super-fast development of the industry. This has not been easy, especially for lawyers as lawyers are often seen as conservative, traditional and resistant to changes.

I became a superyacht lawyer by raining, learning alongside one of the best lawyers I know. I learned how to use my maritime knowledge, my network and my legal reasoning to think outside the box in order to satisfy and assist clients accompany, assist and advise the client in the project they wish to accomplish. Whether it is to buy, sell, build or operate a superyacht. There are two simple, but important, facts that must be acknowledged in order to understand why you need a lawyer to begin with:

1/ There will be international parties and jurisdictions involved; and

2/ The value of the asset that is contemplated is likely to be extremely high.

This triggers the natural need to feel protected and ensure that the other party is obligated to have in place a resolution process should matters go sour. Any transaction has fiscal and legal implications which call for an understanding and expertise on:

1/ The category and the specificity of the asset that is to be acquired/sold;

2/ The international and national regulations relating to that asset.

Superyachts are unique assets that have specific laws and regulations dedicated to them. Contrary to what some people might think it is not like buying a car or a house. Why would I need a specialised lawyer as opposed to my traditional lawyer? Your specialised superyacht lawyer will have a direct understanding of the legal situation you are in, with the knowledge of the industry and the actors involved. He/she will therefore be able to anticipate what is
expected, required and foreseeable. Your superyacht lawyer will also be able to guide you through crucial notions and legal understanding such as: the Flag State, classification society, and all the technical and legal documents required in a transaction. They will protect you the buyer during the crucial steps of negotiating and drafting a new build contract. For example, they will deal with such matters as: the notion of permissible delay for a shipyard, what is acceptable by way of builder warranty, explain to the buyer what a maritime lien means or to what yacht code the yacht should be built to. I have had scenarios in which a buyer had signed up a new build contract (without a superyacht lawyer) with payment clauses that were completely unreasonable and did not protect him – mainly because a reasonable payment schedule would be triggered by the successful completion of a build stage to the satisfaction of the buyer.
In other cases, owners had committed themselves in operational service contracts (i.e. ashore support or telecommunication agreement) from which they could not get out of or could only do so with with great difficulty. Tacit renewal (i.e. renewed automatically unless expressly terminated) does not give the adequate flexibility to a yacht owner. Other clients solicited my assistance to register their yacht in jurisdictions that were neither appropriate nor adequate to them or their yacht. The perception that people outside the industry generally have on flying flags (such as the Cayman Islands flag versus the Swiss flag) is often wrong. There is a perception that there are onshore and offshore flags and that offshore flags may be less demanding. Actually, the choice of a flag is based on its experience, laws and support of the yachting industry as well as on the profile of the yacht owner and the usage of the yacht. Choosing a quality flag is choosing a better service to the owner and the yacht, but more importantly it is choosing safety, high technical standards and maintenance and good reputation. Choosing the right flag for your yacht is based on various criteria that your superyacht lawyer can guide you through. Employment law for seafarer has been developing significantly over the past few years. Superyacht lawyers have been here giving on-going advice to yacht owners on how to keep complying with these new developments. Seafarers are not any type of employee or worker and, again, they are a specificity of the industry that requires specialised advice.

What does it take to be a good superyacht lawyer?
Every client, yachts and transactions are different and unique. The belief that you can apply the same solution or view from one client or yacht to another is, in my opinion, wrong. We are here to think, to resolve problems and more importantly, anticipate them. We are here to ensure the owner of a superyacht has a smooth, stress free and enjoyable usage of their superyacht, whatever usage. This usage may be of different legal and operational forms; this is why we
are very solicted by the operational team. Being a good superyacht lawyer requires understanding your client, his or her personality and methodology. It requires a thorough understanding of technical, legal and practical aspects of a
superyacht, as well as an understanding of the various jurisdictions she may cruise to and her envisaged usage. Furthermore, it requires the ability to work intelligently with various actors and professionals of the industry who will make sure the yacht operates safely, professionally and creatively. It is also about simplicity. There is nothing worse
for a client to be “lawyerised” by their lawyer, especially when discussing superyachts. Finally, you have to be dedicated and passionate about this industry, which is true for everything you do in life if you want to do it properly, to the highest standards, honestly and with professionalism. This is something that is apparent every day in the yachting
industry and we are privileged to be part of it.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a superyacht lawyer?
In my years of practice, I have seen the industry take two changing turns. The first was when the size of the new builds started exploding in the early 2000s. We had never seen so many superyachts being built over 100 meters and this forced the industry to push the limits in terms of both a regulatory and yacht management point of view.
The second was the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 which shook up the industry with regard to work methodology and professionalism. This Convention, commonly called the MLC, reviewed the entire work and living conditions of crew onboard commercial vessels, whether merchant shipping vessels or superyachts. It created employment law for seafarers and sent a strong signal to the professionals working in the industry that we could not continue working
the way we had been for so many years. The legal, commercial, fiscal, safety and environmental risks that superyachts were potentially carrying required the industry to be more professional, transparent, ethical and regulated.
The vision of my role as superyacht lawyer changed at that point. The biggest challenge for me has been to explain to yacht owners and their team that professional and expert advice was required.
For some owners, the idea that what they used for their family holidays needed to be ran like a business seemed crazy. Only when superyachts started to be inspected more, and arrested were sometimes made, did the game change.
We, the new generation of superyacht lawyers, are part of our clients’ yachts life, continuously advising on the compliance of the operations with the industry legal changes. It is a team effort that requires the same attention to detail and amount of work that would be required for a commercial enterprise, albeit perhaps with a more glamourous touch, but with no less issues and high stakes.

What do you think the future holds for superyacht law?
Superyacht law is slowly but prudently establishing itself. However, it requires more structure and must be handled with care and in consideration of how the industry itself evolves. In a way that is why English law is perfectly fit for superyacht law – it gives the flexibility and the maritime law history superyacht law requires and deserves.
I believe we will see the law evolving with our European institutions understanding better the specificity of the superyacht industry. This would lead to regulation that are better suited to our industry and specifically the private and commercial use of superyachts. A first step would be to acknowledge that the dual use (private and commercial) of a yacht is part of the life and usage of the yacht. The Marshall Islands Maritime Registry has been the first one to cleverly
be forward thinking about this, while the French customs authority has allowed a private yacht to be used commercially for a limited amount of time per year without having to choose between the two. We will see more of it.

Anouch Sedef can be contacted at [email protected]

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