• Search

GAR 100 - 10th Edition

Holman Fenwick Willan

08 March 2017

Defending Greece in a billion-euro dispute over a shipyard takeover

Treaty cases 0
Current arbitrator appointments 4 (of which 2 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 2

This London-headquartered firm has a long history in international arbitration thanks to its shipping and commodities work, but it only established a dedicated practice a few years ago, headed by partner Damian Honey in London.

It still does hundreds of arbitrations at various maritime and trade bodies every year but has branched out to working on mainstream commercial cases under all the major institutional rules. More recently, it’s taken on some investment treaty work.

It frequently acts in arbitration-related proceedings in the English High Court and has long been involved in Bermuda Form insurance and reinsurance arbitrations held in London applying New York law.


The anchor of the practice is London, which hosts 11 partners that do arbitration. The other key offices are Paris, Geneva, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Melbourne and Sydney.

Who uses it?

Clients of note include mining group Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Goldman Sachs, Maersk Oil Qatar, Trafigura, BP, Noble Resources and BNP Paribas. More recently it has been retained by Greece for ICSID and ICC matters.

In an important case for the maritime sector, Holman Fenwick Willan advised China’s state-run Cosco Group, which had chartered a ship captured by Somali pirates. The tribunal (and subsequently the English High Court) had to decide whether the capture of the ship was an “average accident” that made the ship off-hire.

Track record

The firm acted for Trafigura in a series of arbitrations arising from the collapse of the coal market in South China in 2012. Two of these took place in London under LCIA rules, with one ending in favour of the firm’s client in 2014. The award was later enforced by the English High Court.

Holman Fenwick also settled an LCIA matter in Geneva for Trafigura, the night before merits hearings were due to start.

The firm has had successes before the English courts in matters relating to arbitration. In 2015, it helped to disqualify a Lebanese arbitrator from hearing a case against a client from Sierra Leone because of bias concerns. It achieved a similar result in 2012 in an aluminium dispute.

In another English court matter, it helped Indonesia’s Kaltim Prima Coal resist an application by contractor Thiess for security payable in relation to a Singapore arbitration over mining services in Borneo.

Recent events

The firm has been representing Greece in a billion-euro dispute with Lebanese investor Iskandar Safa and his company Privinvest relating to the Greek navy’s takover of the Skaramangas commercial shipyard and a submarine construction project. Holman Fenwick is defending the state in two concurrent ICC arbitrations as well as an ICSID claim filed by Safa.

HFW helped Noble Resources defend an award in the Federal Court of Australia against allegations of procedural unfairness in the arbitration. The court found that the losing side, China’s Sino Dragon, was the “author of its own misfortune”, because it had opted to use the WeChat app on an iPad to communicate with witnesses in Hong Kong rather than bring them to a hearing or use videoconferencing.

The firm reports that it has been defending a national oil company against a US$2 billion LCIA claim relating to an infrastructure project.

South Korea’s Sinokor is using it in an arbitration with Libya’s state-owned General National Maritime Transportation Company that involves allegations that a bribe was paid to one of the sons of deceased former president of Libya Muammar Gadaffi.  In January 2017, the English High Court refused to rule that the panel hearing the case was properly constituted, as one of the parties to the case has been dissolved.

Adam Strong joined the London practice as a partner, while Martin Downey arrived in Hong Kong to lead the construction group. London partner Robert Wilson retired while Simon Cartwright in Dubai left to return to his native New Zealand.



Regional analysis from arbitrators around the globe, focussing on key developments in specific industry areas and jurisdictions.

Meaar 2020 reviews banner 20x5

The Middle Eastern and African Arbitration Review 2020


AfCFTA and the Upcoming Protocol on Investment: What Can Investors Expect?

Théobald Naud, Maxime Desplats and Ophélie Divoy

DLA Piper

Analysing Liquidity: When the State of Matter matters to Expert Valuers in Damages Assessments

Jonathan Ruffell, Steve Harris and James Church-Morley

FTI Consulting