Until then, France, the “owner” of all ports and berths in France’s Public Maritime Domain, was represented by local mayors. As the predecessor of the Metropole developed under the name of CUNCA (Communauté Urbaine Nice Côte d’Azur), it created a branch dedicated to the management of ports, named the “Direction de la Gestion des Activités Portuaires” (or DGAP) which investigated how local ports were run and ordered surveys to identify means of improvement where possible.
Based on its findings and conclusions, in 2009, the DGAP, began reminding all the port administration of rules it was empowered to implement, such as the terms under which it would deliver the Right to Use berths, to so called “own” them, as of 1st January 2010. Until then, in most of local harbours and marinas, port shareholders automatically had the right to use berths or to rent them out indefinitely if they did not own a boat themselves.
By definition, a port shareholder is a physical or moral entity (a person or a company) who owns shares in a company which has a concession from the French Government to construct a port or a marina and operate it over a period of time. To benefit from this status, this entity must abide by its obligations, such as paying the annual service charges which contribute to the maintenance and management of the harbour. These shares, like in any company, can be traded or transmitted between individuals. In all cases, port share sales must be registered with the Port’s Administration. It is a relatively simple transaction which does not require the intervention of a notary.
However, in order to use a berth (i.e. to be able to moor your own boat or have it rented out whenever you are not using it) being a shareholder of a port is no longer sufficient under Metropole Nice Côte d’Azur rules. The Right to Use a berth can only be granted by France, in this instance, its representative, the Metropole, by a contract called “Amodiation” (literally a leasehold contract). To obtain such a contract the shareholder must comply with other rules implemented in all ports under DGAP supervision:
The registered port shareholder must own (or have a long-term lease agreement) of a boat or yacht
Either in his or her own name
Or through the ownership of the majority of shares of the company owning a yacht (thus controlling the yacht)
The boat or yacht’s size and dimensions must be strictly compatible with those of the berth required by the applicant
The shareholder must use the berth to moor his or her own boat, at the very least 30 days per year.
The shareholder, “Amodiataire” and occupant of the allocated berth must be the same person (physical or moral entity).
These measures have had a drastic effect on what it means to own shares in NCA ports. If until then you had rights on one or several berths without using them yourself, you could rent them out. Though there were service charges to pay, annual rental income was usually sufficient to cover these costs and make a small profit, but mostly it meant it cost nothing to “own” a berth without using it. Under the DGAP rules today, if you own shares in a port but you never use these shares to moor your own boat or your yacht, though you keep to the right to pay annual service charges to the port’s administration, you may not have any rights on berths, and you certainly have no rights to rental income.
Consequently berths loose some of their speculative value. The fact that port authorities are now much less lenient regarding exceeding boat lengths on berths meant there were fewer possible users for berths for sale. The fact it is now a cost to have port shares for sale cumulated with the current economic downturn has caused berth prices to drop in all of the harbours supervised by the new Conceding Authority. In some ports, in just over three years, shares now sell for half the price they used to be, before the DGAP’s directives.
This change in harbour management rules naturally caused an uproar amongst shareholders in the ports concerned. However, the Conceding Authority is in its right, just as shareholders used to be until changes in French legislation and new policies.
All of the “private” ports and marinas of the region around Nice, from St Laurent du Var to Menton were built many decades ago. The companies who constructed them and still hold a concession from the state were created under various models defined by the French Government at the time. The terms of the concessions were also those chosen by France, as per Circular # 69 of the Ministry of the Environment and Transportation, dated 29th December 1965. These were days when the developed port and yachting infrastructures we have grown used to, did not exist, and France sought to develop its tourism. Circular 69 was superseded on 19th March 1981, by Circular 81-22/2/5. These new directives prohibited the possibility of granting exclusive rights to individuals over berths. For the new ports built on private funding, from then onwards, a guarantee on the use of berths, a “Garantie d’Usage”, under new terms, was to replace the Amodiation system. However, the existing ports had been legally built, under previous concession terms, and therefore the French Government is bound to continue honouring theses terms. In most private ports and marinas on the French Riviera today, representatives of the state still grant Amodiation contracts to port shareholders. However, as per the 1981 directives, the Conceding Authorities are required, whenever possible, to implement the revised port management policies, by all contractual means at its disposal. And consequently, the DGAP used its authority to re-write Amodiation contracts in order to enforce these policies, 30 years after they were introduced.
There has been no sign so far that these rules were to spread to the other private ports of the Côte d’Azur. Each port is unique in many ways, and the legalities, rules, and terms on which they run vary from one to another. Their Conceding Authorities and their approach to port management also vary, meaning each port ultimately adapts at its own pace to new regulations, and in many cases, it is likely that the Amodiation system may run its full term under the contractual terms currently in place.