Maritime law in Spain

As a specialist in recreational maritime and nautical law in the Balearics, León von Ondarza Fuster looks at the tax laws relating to superyachts in Spanish waters

Spanish maritime legislation is based on two main laws that constitute the two basic pillars. These rules are Royal Legislative Decree 2/2011, of 5 September, approving the Consolidated Text of the Law on State Ports and the Merchant Navy and Law 14/2014, of 24 July, on Maritime Navigation.

Royal Legislative Decree 2/2011 regulates the Spanish state-owned port system from the perspective of public law (ports belonging to the regionals governments, which are regulated by the laws of each Government, are excluded from this regulation) and the Merchant Navy, i.e. on the one hand, it regulates the management of the state public port domain (ports of general interest), and on the other, aspects relating to maritime administration, shipping operations and the system for the navigation of ships and vessels in Spanish waters.

The Maritime Navigation Act, which focuses on private legal relations, brings together in a single legal text the vast majority of transport and maritime business regulations, adapts Spanish legislation to international standards, and includes new aspects that had not previously been included in Spanish maritime regulations, such as recreational navigation, shipbuilding and ship sale and purchase contracts and the charter contract.
Apart from these two main laws, Spanish maritime regulations are complemented by numerous rules governing the registration and safety inspections of ships (over 24 metres in length) and vessels (up to 24 metres in length), professional qualifications and licences for recreational navigation, private or commercial use (charter).

However, as a complement to the above, it is important to highlight the tax treatment of recreational vessels or megayachts and vessels sailing in Spanish waters, i.e., EU waters. It is precisely the taxes related to recreational boating that puts Spain at a disadvantage with the rest of the European Mediterranean countries, these taxes are VAT and the Special Tax on Certain Means of Transport, better known as Matriculation Tax. The former because, although it is a tax applicable throughout the European Union, there are differences in interpretation depending on the country, and the latter because it is a tax on the purchase or use of a boat in Spain that does not exist in the rest of the European countries.

The tax laws that apply to ships and that need to be considered are Regulation (EU) Nº 952/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 October 2013 laying down the Union Customs Code and Council Directive 2006/112/EC of 28 November 2006 on the common system of VAT; and the Spanish Law 37/1992 of 28 December 1992 on VAT and Law 38/1992 of 28 December 1992 on Excise Duties (matriculation tax).

These provisions directly affect the stay and navigation of ships in Spanish waters depending on the flag (Temporary Admission for non-EU flags), and the use made of them, i.e., whether they are intended for private or commercial navigation (payment or exemption from registration tax).

The rules that have been mentioned above deal with topics of interest that undoubtedly deserve further explanations for individual cases. If in any doubt, we always suggest talking to a qualified specialist as each case can unique dependent on many external factors.

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