The majority of harbour authorities in the UK were originally given their powers under statute. Private bodies such as Associated British Ports (which owns 21 UK Ports including Plymouth, Southampton, Cardiff and Newport) are in fact ‘statutory’ harbour authorities. They must exercise their statutory powers in accordance with the relevant legislative framework. Whilst exercising these powers statutory harbour authorities are acting in the role of a ‘quasi’ public body. Therefore their actions are governed by public law principles even though they may be a private body.
Harbour dues imposed by statutory harbour authorities can be substantial and the enforcement measures for non-payment severe (including selling vessels to recover unpaid dues). From the port authorities’ perspective harbour dues are a vital source of income. From a commercial perspective they can seriously impact on business if they are improperly imposed.
The Harbours Act 1964 is the central piece of primary legislation governing the imposition of harbour dues by statutory harbour authorities. In addition, other primary legislation such as the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 and a vast array of local acts of parliament (normally dating back to the 19th Century) apply to each statutory port. This means that the powers of a statutory harbour authority can vary from port to port. Local acts should therefore always be considered when deciding whether a harbour authority has the power to levy a harbour due.
Our in-depth knowledge of marine regulation and public law means that we are uniquely placed to advise port authorities, shipping and fishing fleets, ferry companies, marina operators, ship builders and repairers, and other port users (including freight forwarders, fish merchants and other port based businesses) on such issues.