Maritime lawyers attending the Shipping and the Law conference in Naples have been alerted to how shipping conventions can suffer from mistranslation.
While international treaties have “proliferated” since the Second World War and often impact shipping, they must “be implemented properly”, said Mans Jacobsson, former director of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC Funds).
Conventions tend to be implemented through either a monistic or dualistic method, he added.
Under the monistic approach, which is the simplest, treaties are ratified by a government and become domestic law. At this point, their provisions have a higher status than regional law, although “in the real world” they might not take precedence, said Jacobsson.
But with the dualistic method, used by states including Australia, Canada, India, and the UK, treaties become law through a domestic statute, involving legislation drafted in the “linguistic way of local law”.
A translation may not accurately reflect a convention’s original meaning and states are “not very good” at going back to check their interpretations, he said.
Also, as international agreements “have been drafted largely in the Anglo-Saxon style”, they may not be easily understood by judges trained in the European Continental system, he added.
Jacobsson further noted that “more could be done”, despite the uniformity in maritime law already achieved through international treaties.
While the IMO will not support amending or creating treaties without a “clear and compelling need”, these could be required by society, he argued.
“Private stakeholders” can achieve changes through making representations to their governments and industry can also create “soft law”, such as its guidelines for places of refuge and the welfare of seafarers, he said.
The Shipping and the Law conference is being held in Naples on 15-16 October.