SALVAGE AT SEA

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The concept of marine salvage has been recognized by the law since the times of Byzantine Empire. In modern times, the Salvage Convention of 1910 was adopted by an international panel and ratified by the United States in 1913. The U.S. also adopted a Salvage Act in 1912 to supplement the Convention and address new circumstances.

Unlike land based volunteer acts to save property, the person who saves property at sea is entitled to a reward which is generously computed in light of the fundamental public policy involved. Public policy, to encourage mariners to provide prompt service in emergencies, is to award compensation much greater than the value of the actual labor involved.

The formal requisites of an act of salvage, in a way similar to those required for general average, are the following:


1) there must be a serious peril from which the vessel or property could not have been rescued without the salvor's assistance;
2) the salvor's act must be voluntary (no legal or official duty to render assistance);
3) the act must be successful in saving all or part of the property at risk.

When the property has been abandoned, anyone may become a salvor and if the owner later wants to reclaim his property, he would take it subject to a lien for the salvage claim. The owner in possession of the property, however, does not have to accept an offer of salvage. While the typical act of salvage involves the rescue and tow of a vessel at sea, the range of situations which can constitute salvage is quite broad. Among examples of salvage are the following: the escorting of a distressed ship to a position where aid can be rendered; giving information on how to avoid an obstruction such as an ice floe or to avoid running aground; carrying a message which results in the provision of emergency assistance. In general, it can be said that, so long as a vessel is in danger, almost any voluntary act which contributes to its ultimate safety or rescue may qualify as an act of salvage.

As was noted earlier, certain tests must be met for an act to qualify for salvage. For property to become subject to salvage it must be on the water or on a beach or reef. It was also mentioned that since the act of salvage must be voluntary, a person who is under a duty to provide assistance cannot claim as a salvor. A crew member, for example, would not qualify under any circumstance. The same goes for passengers. Public employees such as firemen or even licensed pilots are not entitled to an award for saving property if it was their duty to do so. On the other hand, a salvage claim is not defeated by the fact that the salving vessel is professionally equipped to render assistance or engage in salvage operations. It should be noted that, while nothing prevents a government from claiming salvage, the U.S. Coast Guard has long provided a rescue service with a traditional policy of not claiming salvage for its rescue efforts.

For what concerns the amount of a salvage award, a court opinion from The Blacwall is often cited:

"Courts of admiralty usually consider the following circumstances as the main ingredients in determining the amount of the award to be decreed for a salvage service:
"(1) The labor expended by the salvors in rendering the salvage service.
"(2) The promptness, skill and energy displayed in rendering the service and saving the property.
"(3) The value of the property employed by the salvors in rendering the service, and the dangers to which such property was exposed.
"(4) The risk incurred by the salvors in securing the property from the impending peril.
"(5) The value of the property saved.
"(6) The degree of danger from which the property was rescued."

The items taken into account in assessing the value of the property are the ship, freight and cargo. The salvage award can never be greater than the value of the salved property and will always be substantially lower except in the case of abandoned or derelict property. Where substantial values are involved, awards tend to be under 20% of the value of the property.

Salvage awards are for salvage of property, not life.The 1912 statute does not provide for awards for the pure salvage of life unaccompanied by salvage of property. Salvors of human life, however, who have taken part in the services rendered on the occasion of the accident giving rise to salvage, are entitled to a fair share of the remuneration awarded to the salvors of the ship, her cargo and accessories. In other words, the trial court will also consider moral as well as economic issues.

 

There are two types of salvage contracts. One is the agreement in extremis entered into by the master of a vessel in danger under the stress of circumstances. The second type can be entered into by the owner and a professional salvage team after the immediate peril has ceased. The in extremis agreement will be enforced only if the court finds that it has been fairly negotiated and not entered into under duress with the result of an extortionary bargain for the salvor. If the court finds that a form of extortion was attempted, it may reduce the award or forfeit it entirely.

 

A suit to enforce a maritime lien for salvage can be brought both in rem against the vessel or in personam against any person who may be liable. The trend for the resolution of salvage disputes, however, seems to be arbitration even if extrajudicial resolutions are not necessarily binding on crews of salving vessel.

 

 

 

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