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Michael carries out work throughout New Zealand and the near Pacific Islands. Michael has a broad range of commercial litigation and dispute resolution experience with a special expertise in maritime, shipping, transport, ports and aviation. His practice has an international focus and he regularly receives instructions from overseas clients.

After establishing his career in New Zealand, he spent seven years with the London office of an international law firm. During his time in London he was admitted as a solicitor of the High Court in England and Wales.

Within his practice, Michael has particular skills in the effective assembling and management of teams in large-scale litigation projects – a role outside the usual skills of a lawyer as advisor. Such projects include (for the shipowner and its insurer) the litigation and project management of a team of professionals required after the Rena grounding of Tauranga which was the largest maritime incident to have occurred in New Zealand.

Michael acts for clients in dispute resolution, mediation, arbitration and in all Courts.

Michael is ranked as a leading lawyer in a number of prominent legal directories. He has been ranked in Band One by Chambers & Partners for a number of years. He is ranked in Asialaw Profiles in Shipping, Maritime and Aviation; Legal500 in Transport; Legal Media Group’s Expert Guide to the World’s Leading Shipping and Maritime Lawyers and its publication Best of the Best as one of the top 30 shipping lawyers in the world; and the US publication Best Lawyers International.


Qualifications and Memberships 

  • Bachelor of Laws – New Zealand – Barrister and Solicitor in New Zealand

  • Solicitor in England and Wales

  • Maritime Law Association of Australia and New Zealand

  • Aviation Law Association of Australia and New Zealand 

  • Michael is a LEADER trained and accredited mediator


Examples of Work



  • Advised the owners of the containership Rena and its P&I and hull insurers on the many claims and issues arising from the grounding of the ship off the New Zealand coast. He was appointed within a few hours of the grounding. This was the largest maritime incident to have occurred in New Zealand. Work included limitation, oil spill, wreck, salvage, cargo claims, clean up, third party business/cultural claims, negotiations with the New Zealand Government, local government and regulators, criminal prosecutions and environmental issues. This involved appointing and managing a large team of lawyers and external consultants.

  • Advised ship operators and insurers on most types of cargo claims.

  • Advised ship operators and insurers in charterparty arbitrations, charterparty negotiations and claims under contracts of affreightment.

  • Collisions and groundings: Acted for clients in most major high-profile incidents around the New Zealand coast (and in the near Pacific Islands) over the last 20 years. This included vessel/vessel collisions, vessel/wharf allisions, groundings and heavy weather incidents involving damage, loss and injury.

  • Admiralty claims: Acted for clients in many admiralty claims, some of which have been significant to the development of the New Zealand admiralty jurisdiction. This work included the 2014 decision involving the cross-border insolvency of Korean shipowner STX and the ship New Giant. Acted for an admiralty claimant against the ship in court proceedings in New Zealand.  The court ordered that the admiralty claimant could continue with its in rem claim against the ship in New Zealand outside of the rehabilitation of STX taking place in Korea. The admiralty claimant was paid in full.

  • Ship recycling: dumping permit for EEZ and/or export offshore (under Basel Convention) for recycling.

  • Ship/yacht/launch sale and purchase disputes as well as building disputes.

  • Advised freight forwarders and insurers on contractual issues and liability claims.

  • Advised creditors/liquidators in large-scale litigation arising from the collapse of major shipping lines.

  • Advisory work in maritime area: Advised clients on setting up a shipping line. Carried out a review of all legislation applicable as a port and an analysis of liabilities and insurances, and a pilotage audit. Advised a port company on a marine services contract whereby the port company contracts out of the provision of pilotage and tug services. Reviewed port company terms and conditions for stevedores, shipping lines and agents. Drafted long-term contracts of affreightment for transport of goods, strategic alliances and joint ventures.

  • Ship sale and purchase: advised in more than 20 sales of commercial vessels.

  • Ship building: drafted ship/yacht/launch building contracts.



  • Carriage of goods by air claims, aircraft sale and purchase disputes, claims involving airworthiness certification/maintenance/ repairs to aircraft and related insurance issues. Claim under code share agreement. Claims under aircraft lease.

  • Acted in major litigation for an international airline defending competition/cartel prosecution against airline (and 11 other airlines) for alleged price fixing of fuel surcharges on cargo (prosecution against 12 airlines in New Zealand and in other jurisdictions).

  • Acted for client in Civil Aviation Authority investigation into high-profile aircraft crash and death of occupants, along with associated claims and insurance issues.


General Commercial

  • Cross border litigation.

  • Claims against and representing professionals.

  • Torchlight v Wilaci: large claim under off market finance arrangement. The Court of Appeal decision is a leading case on liquidated damages/penalties in commercial contracts.


What Others Say

  • Michael McCarthy is remarked upon by one market source as "a very strong lawyer" and the "busiest and the best of shipping solicitors." - Chambers Asia-Pacific 2019

  • "Michael McCarthy is praised by his sources for his willingness to be involved and to do what is necessary to achieve the best result possible." - Chambers Asia-Pacific 2016

  • 'Michael McCarthy is a leading figure in the market […] "Working with Michael McCarthy was a pleasure and it was very reassuring to know that he was fighting on our behalf," said one client.' - Chambers Asia-Pacific 2015

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