Good morning to Captain and Crew alike, and welcome to the Admiralty Docket. Today our subject is the law of salvage.
Oft arises the question to admiralty and maritime practitioners: “Who may render assistance to a distressed vessel and become a Salvor?”
On land, the person who rushes in to save another’s property from danger is considered a nosy intermeddler with no right of reward. At sea, the person who voluntarily saves property from a maritime peril is a salvor entitled to a liberal monetary salvage award under the General Maritime Law pursuant to the ancient practices of sea ports in the Mediterranean.
Ships, vessels, and boats of all descriptions may be subject to salvage, as well as their engines, tackle, equipment, furniture, and cargoes. Salvage also 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.” This includes “jetsam” (goods cast into the sea to lighten the load of a ship), “flotsam” (goods floating upon the sea), and “lagan” (goods cast into the sea with a buoy or marker attached).
To be entitled to an award for “pure salvage” services (as distinguished from “contract salvage” by agreement, “treasure” salvage of ancient wrecks, and life salvage), 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 generally 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. Non-seamen otherwise entitled to salvage may freely give up their rights to salvage and may waive an award, however, seaman’s claims for salvage cannot be forfeited or abandoned by agreement pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 10117.
The amount of a salvage award is highly discretionary, and will be based upon the “Blackwall factors.” That, however, is a discussion for another day.