January 15, 2014

Superyachts chartering in Greece - what yacht owners need to know

Greece has its own take on free movement of maritime traffic – and it's important for superyacht owners to understand the laws before deciding to charter their yacht in these waters.

In the European Union there is no bar on foreign flagged vesseld operating commercially. However, is the whole of the European Union open to flags of whatever nation to charter, subject to all the normal tax considerations? Greece has its own peculiar take on free movement of maritime traffic. 

Firstly, any vessel can pass  through Greek waters, any vessel can stop, partake of the local pleasures and move off again. What any vessel cannot do is pick up or drop off guests in Greece unless it possesses a Greek charter  licence. This charter  licence is available to all EU flags.

Therefore, like the Ritz Hotel in London, everyone theoretically can take tea there! However,  in order  to qualify and maintain a Greek charter  licence it is almost impossible to meet  the criteria unless a yacht is based in Greece, much like tea at the Ritz at £45 per head is a bit rich for most, unless  it is a special occasion. The Greek authorities require at least 200 days chartering in Greece over a five year period, which  would require  40 days of char tering in Greece  each year.

Chartering for almost six weeks is a challenge for many yachts but to restrict  that chartering to Greece makes it near  impossible to secure  a Greek charter  licence and maintaining it almost impossible for anyone other than yachts  based in Greece. In addition, the chartering licence can only be acquired if an EU commercial yacht is owned  by an EU owning company which has a branch in Greece. Non-EU yacht owning companies cannot,  as a rule, set up in Greece but exceptions can be agreed on.

There are also restrictions as to guests.  As far as the yacht  is at berth and not sailing,  guests  can go on board and even stay a night on the yacht but the yacht must remain stationary at all times. In exceptional circumstances, the Greek Minister of Shipping can allow the full chartering of a non-EU  flagged vessel. Since 1999, when the private chartering law was enacted, we are not aware that the Minister  of Shipping has ever permitted such a yacht  to legally charter in Greek water using his discretion.

I know  it is customary to pick up and drop off guests  on the islands, but custom is not law. As I have  said many times before,  just because you get away with it does not make  it legal. Greeks will always  offer some of the best and some of the most beguiling chartering waters on the planet, but if you are not a Greek based yacht, you may need  to arrive  and to leave with your company of guests in tact!