A look at law in the superyacht industry with Van Steenderen Mainport Lawyers

Often seen as complicated and extensive, law in the superyacht industry requires careful attention, typically at the hands of legal experts. Yachting Pages spoke to Arnold Van Steenderen of Van Steenderen Mainport Lawyers to find out more about their company and what’s required of them, as well as how they can help owners and what advice they would give to superyachts.

When was Van Steenderen Mainport Lawyers founded and how did it come about?

After being a partner for 23 years in the strongest shipping practice of the Netherlands at that time, Nauta Dutilh, I decided to set up a boutique shipping law firm in December 2005. Taking my most promising associates and a few staff with me, I set up Van Steenderen Mainport Lawyers to continue doing business with clients in the shipping, logistics and energy and offshore industries, at the highest professional level. This ambition has been very successful. Only three years after setting up the firm it was awarded the ‘Golden Hour Glass’ for the most prestigious boutique law firm of the Netherlands.

In your own words how would you describe Van Steenderen Mainport Lawyers and how it has developed over the years?

Our practice has developed extremely well. We have retained the valuable client base we started off with in January 2006 and we have also been able to grow in certain sectors that we prefer; which involve less commoditised work and more intellectually challenging work, meaning less serious competition. I have always worked in shipbuilding projects, including superyachts.

What makes you different from your competitors?

We closely follow the industries that we are active in, which means that we have in-depth knowledge of our clients’ businesses. We train our lawyers in this respect and we also regularly take courses that are not strictly legal, but more of a technical nature to fully understand the risks that are inherent to a certain business.

Are there any new developments with the business or in the industry?

In 1988 I drafted the first building contract for the construction of a superyacht and since then I have dealt with a great number of projects. Since then, the dynamics of the industry have changed. Motor yachts are especially being commissioned to be bigger and bigger, and certain first tier yards have created a brand of their own. This has indeed created a demand for high quality yacht building products. On the other hand we have seen that a number of Greenfield and second tier shipyards have also moved to the superyacht industry, building bigger boats than before.

Especially in the market of newcomers, this generates disappointments and disputes. I expect the most reputable yards to become more active in the aftersales market by offering technical assistance through shipyards located in the popular sailing areas, to warrant carefree enjoyment of their luxury products. I also expect guarantee periods to be extended to three to five years or even longer, provided the building yard can keep involved in the day to day operational side of things after delivery. In fact, if properly set up, this could be a very profitable market for the yards, while at the same time they retain contacts with their customers.

What are the biggest challenges that you face in the superyacht industry at the moment?

One of the biggest challenges is to make owners and their consultants aware that they should engage a properly qualified and knowledgeable lawyer right from the beginning of the construction or refit project to safeguard the owner’s position from the beginning. Already in the conceptual stages of a project, risks should be identified and properly taken care of in the specification and building contract. It is also advisable to have a knowledgeable lawyer at hand during the sometimes three to four years of construction to be the legal sparring partner of the project manager appointed. Brokers and management companies should similarly become aware of the added value of such involvement.

How is business? Were you affected by the recession?

We are very busy at this moment and we see that there is great interest in the custom-build sector. Less in the up to 50 metre semi-custom build sector. The great thing of the legal profession is that demand for specialised legal advice is rather inelastic. Where we see more contentious work in times of recession the non-contentious (transactional) work increases in economic boom times.  The message is: you need a lawyer, either way.

Do you have any tips or advice on superyacht law for yacht owners, guests and crew?

We certainly know a lot of tips and tricks which we will gladly share with our clients. In general I could say that owners should be less concerned about paying VAT. A lot of agony is caused by setting up clever VAT structures which ultimately in a certain jurisdiction (with guests on board) seem to be scrutinised by tax authorities.

Can you explain some common requests/issues you receive from clients?

If we get involved in drafting and/or assisting in negotiating a building contract, common issues of interest are: can you ensure that I will take delivery of the yacht ultimately at the date we agree upon and how can we best control pricing of variation orders.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The most enjoyable aspect for me is to keep learning on a daily basis. You are never too old to learn from the case at hand.

Do you attend any boat shows?  If so, which have you recently attended or plan to attend?

Members of our yacht team attend the Monaco Yacht Show, where we combine meetings with (prospective) clients and consultants along with viewing a few yachts. At the MYS we regularly see a great number of yachts for sale that we have been involved with previously.

Who would be your dream client?

Unfortunately I do not dream about my clients. Though I have met very many interesting people through this specialisation.

For more information, visit Van Steenderen Mainport Lawyers.

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