On May 2 2018 the Supreme Court of Cyprus found that the Cyprus courts have jurisdiction to adjudicate cases relating to claims arising in the Cyprus exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The judgment was issued in Andrew Burness v Saipem SpA,1 which was filed in the admiralty jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
Andrew Burness filed an action in personam against Saipem SpA, claiming general and special damages for the personal injuries and harm that he had suffered following an accident on board the vessel Saipem 1000 in the Cyprus EEZ. The defendants filed an application to set aside the plaintiff's writ of summons alleging that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.
The court considered two main issues in order to decide on the matter of jurisdiction:
- Do accidents which take place in the Cyprus EEZ give jurisdiction to the Cyprus courts?
- Was Cyprus the most appropriate court to hear the present case based on the principle of forum conveniens?
As regards the first issue, the court considered that when the accident had occurred:
- the plaintiff had been working on the vessel, conducting research on the natural resources of the subsoil of the Cyprus Continental Shelf; And
- the vessel had been located within the Cyprus EEZ.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, which applies in Cyprus, the continental shelf of a coastal state (in this case, Cyprus) constitutes the natural prolongation of its land territory. The Law on the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf of 2004 2 provides that the outer edge of the Cyprus Continental Shelf is also the boundary of the Cyprus EEZ. Article 56 of the convention provides that:
- In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has: (a) sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds; (b) jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with regard to: (i) the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures; (ii) marine scientific research; (iii) the protection and preservation of the marine environment; (c) other rights and duties provided for in this Convention.
- 2. In exercising its rights and performing its duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State shall have due regard to the rights and duties of other States and shall act in a manner compatible with the provisions of this Convention.
Article 60 of the convention provides that:
- In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State shall have the exclusive right to construct and to authorize and regulate the construction, operation and use of: (a) artificial islands; (b) installations and structures for the purposes provided for in article 56 and other economic purposes; (c) installations and structures which may interfere with the exercise of the rights of the coastal State in the zone.
- The coastal State shall have exclusive jurisdiction over such artificial islands, installations and structures, including jurisdiction with regard to customs, fiscal, health, safety and immigration laws and regulations."
The court also considered Herbert Weber v Universal Ogden Services Ltd,3 in which the European Court of Justice decided that activities conducted by an employee on the continental shelf of a member state in the course of prospection or exploitation of its natural resources must be considered as having occurred within the member state concerned. Based on these principles – and by determining that there was a connection between the accident and the research and exploitation of natural resources on the Cyprus Continental Shelf, which constitutes part of Cyprus – the court concluded that it had jurisdiction to adjudicate on the dispute between the parties.
The second issue raised by the defendant to contest the court's jurisdiction was the forum conveniens. It contended that, as neither of the parties nor any of the witnesses were Cypriot nationals, the claim had no connection with Cyprus. The court disagreed with this argument on the grounds that, as stated above, the civil wrong from which most of the evidence had arisen had occurred in Cyprus. Further, the court stated that none of the courts of the countries of which the witnesses were citizens, or in which the companies and insurers involved in the claim were based, had a closer or more substantial connection with the action than the Cyprus courts.
The court decided that it has jurisdiction to hear disputes regarding accidents which occur within its territory, including the Cyprus EEZ, provided that the accident concerns the prospection or exploitation of Cyprus' natural resources.
1 Action 9/2017.
2 64(I)/2004, as amended by Law 97(Ι)/2014.
3 C-37/00, dated February 27 2002.
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