Maritime Salvage Laws

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Maritime salvage laws were originally enacted in order to encourage independent salvage vessels, which are commonly referred to as salvors, to rescue or attempt to aid vessels in peril, and, at the same time, to discourage looting or taking valuable cargo and/or property during the salvage process.

Salvage Claim Qualifications

Today, there are generally three requirements that must be met in order to qualify for a salvage claim.

First, the vessel that is being salvaged must truly be in peril.  Second, the salvor must be acting in a purely voluntary manner.  This provision disqualifies the U.S. Coast Guard or other law enforcement vessels from benefiting from maritime salvage laws.

Finally, the salvors must be at least somewhat successful in saving the vessel and/or its property, or, at least, in reducing the amount of environment damage caused by the sinking vessel. 

In considering a salvage claim, there have been standards developed that courts will typically take into account, such as the value of the property involved, the nature and degree of danger, the relative success of the salvage mission, and the risk of liability for the salvors, among other factors.  Due to these legal requirements, a salvor in today’s world is a professional who maintains highly specialized equipment and knowledge in order to successfully salvage all different types of vessels at sea.  Plus, salvage is a risky business, in that if there is no successful salvage, there is no compensation, which is akin to working solely on commission in the business world.  There is also a risk of liability for the salvor in all cases, such as the potential to create environmental damage, and risk to the equipment based on the circumstances at the time of salvage.

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