Maritime law doesn’t cross many people’s minds, until they read about a collision at sea, a shooting incident or an oil spill. Maritime lawyers, as a result, are almost unknown to many people. However, maritime law and the vessels and people it regulates goes back to pre-historic times. Balsa reed barges sailed the seas in trade with foreign lands and peoples. Some rules had to be in place, because no one owns the seas. Everyone involved had to agree to the rules and uphold them, or no trade could flourish. Wars have been fought for less reason than this. What are the particulars of maritime law?
What Can Happen at Sea?
Let’s consider a cruise liner. Perhaps a small detail was overlooked on inspection of the ship before sailing. Let’s say this imperfection affected the swimming pool, and a guest was hurt. This guest would consult a maritime lawyer within a year of the incident.
An employee on a ship has a little trickier time of it. If a seaman is hurt on the job, he or she can file suit under the Jones Act. This entitles the injured seaman to a trial by jury as well as the ability to recover compensation. The Jones Act was devised to protect sailors, just as due process protects parties who bring suit on land.
Things that happen at sea cover a lot of territory such as:
- Insurance claims
- Customs and tariffs
- Damaged cargo
- Shipwreck and salvage issues
- Human rights aboard ship
- Crew or passenger injuries
It must be recognized that although each country abides by international maritime law, or admiralty law as it is sometimes called, it does so with an eye toward its own laws. Each country establishes a protective act to deal with maritime incidents. In the event of an unforeseen event such as a natural disaster, an “Act of God” or a war, contracts have an out that relieves maritime companies of liability.
Other Particulars of Maritime Law
Maritime law as we know it today encompasses points from ancient times, international treaties, private industry contracts, doctrine and today’s legislation. As an example, an employee of a shipping line who is injured on the job qualifies for injury compensation under the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness. The doctrine requires ship owners to equip their ships properly and to maintain them. If they don’t and an employee is injured, they have to pay up.
Let’s say you built a Volkswagen Jetta online, and it’s being shipped to you. Something happens at sea, and the vehicle is damaged. Under the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, the owners of the ship pay $500 per container, providing that they can prove the ship was sail-worthy before it left port. These are the times a maritime lawyer is required.