Charleston, South Carolina Salvage Attorneys
On land, the person who rushes in to save another’s property from danger is considered a nosy intermeddler with no right of reward under the law and with liability for any damage to the property. At sea, the person who voluntarily saves property from a marine peril is, in the eyes of the admiralty courts, a salvor entitled to a liberal compensation based, in large part, upon the value of the property saved.
Salvage may involve towing a vessel, fighting a fire, freeing a vessel which has run aground, supplying engine parts or fuel to a vessel in need, beaching a vessel to keep her from sinking, or raising a sunken vessel. Salvage awards have been based upon as little as giving information on the proper channel to follow, or carrying a message which summoned help. If a vessel or other marine property is in peril, any voluntary act which contributes to her safety may rank as an act of salvage.
As long as an owner remains in possession of the distressed vessel, he is entitled to contract for salvage or to refuse unwelcome offers. If the owner enters into an agreement with a prospective salvor for salvage services, the salvor’s compensation will be determined by the terms of the contract.
If the vessel or property has been abandoned or has become derelict, and a volunteer saves the vessel, he has no claim to ownership of the saved vessel, but is entitled to a generous salvage award. The admiralty courts will usually consider the following circumstances as the main factors in determining the amount of a salvage award: (1) The labor expended by the salvors (2) The promptitude, skill and energy displayed in saving the property (3) The value of and danger to the salvors’ property (4) The risk incurred by the salvors (5) The value of the property saved, and (6) The degree of danger from which the property was rescued. Of these factors the most important remains the value of the property saved.
Salvors of a derelict or abandoned vessel have the right to maintain possession of the vessel in the face of demands of competing salvors and even demands of her owners. A maritime lien against the salvaged vessel arises at the time of salvage and allows salvors to proceed in the U.S. District Courts to have the Marshal arrest and sell the vessel, to pay any salvage award. To avoid sale of the salvaged vessel, her owners may post security to assure payment of any award.
Liability to pay a salvage award extends to the salvaged vessel herself and to any party with a financial interest in her, including her owners, charterers, insurers, and mortgagee banks. Ships, vessels, and boats of all descriptions may be subject to salvage. Their engines, boilers, tackle, equipment, appurtenances, furniture, and apparel may also be subject to salvage. The cargoes carried aboard such vessels are subject to salvage and subject to the salvage lien, up to the cargo’s proportional share based upon value. Even freights (freight charges) earned by a salvaged vessel are subject to the lien.
Courts have held that salvage extends to “those things which have been committed to, or lost in, the sea or its branches, or other public navigable waters, and have been found and rescued.” If goods are cast into the sea to lighten the load of a ship in danger of sinking, they are called “jetsam.” If a vessel sinks or otherwise perishes and goods are recovered floating upon the sea, they are called “flotsam.” If goods are cast into the sea with a buoy or marker attached to them so that they can be found again, they are called “lagan.” Jetsam, flotsam, and lagan are all subject to salvage.
Rafts composed of lumber, timber, piles, or spars, when rescued on navigable waters are subject to salvage. Salvage awards have been granted for the saving of money found upon corpses, if floating in navigable waters. Generally, if a vessel or maritime property is in peril, any voluntary act which contributes to her ultimate safety may rank as and act of salvage.
What about human life? Can the act of saving human life entitle the volunteer to a salvage award? Historically, the saving of human life was regarded as fulfilling a moral duty, but not as entitling the salvor to a financial reward. Today, by federal statute, life salvors have a right to share in any award for property salvaged on the same occasion. However, life salvage, unaccompanied by property salvage, still goes without financial reward. While the law maritime is liberal with compensation for successful salvage, courts require the utmost honesty, good faith, and uprightness of conduct on the part of the salvors. Courts have held, “The law does not tolerate in salvors dishonesty, corruption, fraud, falsehood, either in rendering the service, or in their proceedings to recover the salvage.”
Salvors have a duty to take such care of the property saved as a prudent person takes of his own property and may be held liable for the consequences of their own negligence. Salvors may be held responsible for damages which they inflict of the saved property or which the salvaged property in their care inflicts on other property. Certain historic shipwrecks in state territorial waters are covered by federal and state statutes and are no longer subject to salvage.
To be entitled to an award for salvage services, first, one must be a volunteer, in the sense that he is under no legal obligation to render that service. Second, one must personally contribute to the service rendered. One exception is made for owners and charterers who may be entitled to share a salvage award without rendering personal services to the distressed vessel, if they provide their ship voluntarily for the salvage effort. Examples of those who cannot claim salvage as volunteers are members of the Coast Guard whose duty it is to render assistance to vessels in distress and city firemen who extinguish a fire aboard a docked ship.
The master, officers, and the crew of the salving vessel are all eligible for an award for their salvage services. Even individuals who do not participate in the salvage operation by manning pumps or boarding the distressed vessel are entitled to share in an award, if they contribute to the mission as a whole.
Contact Experienced Charleston, SC Salvage Attorneys Today
Whether you voluntarily saved a boat or maritime property and wish to pursue a salvage award, or whether you and your boat are being subjected to unfair claims by unscrupulous salvors for exorbitant demands, call on experienced admiralty counsel at Cooper and Bilbrey, P.C. Telephone 843-883-9099 to schedule a free, confidential initial consultation.