Maritime related time bars are regulated in Panama by article 1651 of the Commercial Code which establishes that the general statute of limitations for maritime transactions is of one year. This time limitation is applicable to all sorts of claims, be it in personam or in rem claims, with the following exceptions:
It has been recognized in the Carirubana vs Assicurazioni Generali, that damages and salvage claims arising out of collision will enjoy a two years time bar limitation further to Article 1470 of the Code of Commerce.
Following the voluntary sale of a vessel, credits prior to the sale maintain a six months time bar pursuant to article 1088 of the same Commercial Code.
If a Panama registered vessel or its owners have not been subjected to complying with a debt before a foreign jurisdiction within the year of occurrence of the transaction, it may be of a strong consideration that interruption of the time bar may be requested before either of the two existing Panama maritime courts.
Under article 1649-A of the same Code, time bars may be interrupted only in the event of :
1. written recognition by debtor;
2. renovation of the transaction instrument or
3. filing of the claim in court
In the first 2 situations, the one year general time bar starts to run upon the date of recognition of the debt or the date where title of debt is recorded, as also affirmed by the Supreme Court of Panama in the decision of M/N Conquista.
Under the third alternative, via judicial claim, it is necessary to follow Law 8 of 1982 better known as "Panama's Law of Maritime Procedure" and article 690 of Panama's Judicial Code in regards to time bar interruptions.
In order to make the interruption effective, it is essential that a claim is filed with enough anticipation to the one year expiration date. Article 1650 of Panama Commercial Code establishes that the general one year time bar period starts to run as from the date the debt is payable and subject to judicial collection; in Remsa SA vs Wilford & Mackay, the Supreme Court recognized that in cargo claims the period starts to run from the time of delivery of the goods. Generally, it will be the date of the receipt, if it is a common debt or pursuant to contractual provisions, in a more complex transaction.
Following the presentation of the claim, it is necessary to give the proper notices to the defendant. It is common and possible that neither the vessel nor the owner may be available within the jurisdiction of Panama at the time of presentation of claim. For this reason, it will be necessary for the claimant to prepare and publish a public notice, duly certified by the court, of the claim for 3 consecutive days on a well-known local newspaper. Upon compliance of this procedural requirement, claimants counsel can continue seeking progress in summoning the defendant before Panamanian jurisdiction or providing assistance for the interruption of the time bar before a second jurisdiction.
The possibility of interrupting a time bar is a practical tool available to creditors that significantly will help to extend the life of a claim and the consequent possibility of seeking payment in Panama or abroad, as it can also assist to support the efforts of lawyers and claimants in other jurisdictions where the vessel or its owners may be located.
Dr. J.J. Espino Sagel
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