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The Fundamentals of Admiralty Law

The threat to international shipping posed by the recent spike in piracy off the Somali coast has been making headlines. Reports of passengers falling ill while on cruise ships also dot the news, as do stories concerning workers on oil drilling rigs who are injured when disasters befall their vessels. What do these seemingly unrelated issues have in common? They are all covered by admiralty or maritime law.
 
Admiralty or maritime law is the distinct body of law (both substantive and procedural) governing navigation and shipping. Topics associated with this area of law may include shipping, navigation, piracy, waters, canals and rivers, national and international commerce, seamen and longshoremen, towage and salvage, wharves, piers, and docks, insurance, maritime liens, and recreational boating. While addressing all of these topics, the courts and Congress seek to create a uniform body of admiralty law both nationally and internationally in order to facilitate commerce.
 
Because admiralty and maritime law is composed of many complex subjects, most firms and corporations that are involved with admiralty law only deal with a small portion of these topics, which are usually broken down as follows: 
A)     Claims against the Vessel Firms dealing with these types of claims are typically defense firms that range from several to over 20 members. The types of issues that they deal with on a regular basis also include the following:  i) maritime liens, ii) maritime personal injury, iii) vessel arrest, iv) cargo claims, v) limitation of liability and iv) marine insurance law.. The types of issues that they deal with on a regular basis also include the following:  i) maritime liens, ii) maritime personal injury, iii) vessel arrest, iv) cargo claims, v) limitation of liability and iv) marine insurance law.
 
B)     Cargo:  Firms dealing with these types of claims are typically defense firms that range from several to over 20 members. The types of issues that they deal with on a regular basis also include: i) maritime liens, ii) vessel arrest, iii) COGSA and the Harter Act, iv) international maritime law and v) marine insurance law.
 
C)     Maritime Finance: Attorneys that deal with these types of matters are typically defense attorneys in firms that range from several to over 20 members or work for banks or insurance companies. The issues that are covered in this area range from drafting ship mortgages to purchasing ships to maintaining or defending maritime lien claims.
 
D)     Maritime Insurance: The attorneys that deal with these types of matters are typically defense attorneys in firms that range from several to over 20 members or work for banks or insurance companies. The issues that are covered in this area range from drafting specialized maritime insurance clauses to maintaining or defending claims about maritime insurance, indemnification or subrogation.
 
E)     Personal Injury: The attorneys that bring these types of claims are typically plaintiff attorneys in smaller firms. 
Typical tasks performed by an attorney practicing admiralty or maritime law include  
  • arresting ships based upon maritime liens
  • bringing actions for seamen, for other maritime workers, for cargo loss and damage, for collisions, for marine pollution, and to limit liability,
  • defending vessels and their owners against personal injury claims, and
  • engaging in maritime arbitration. 
Most practitioners in this area rely upon the following resources:
 
Federal Material
  • USCS - Titles 9 (ARBITRATION 4|38), 19 (CUSTOMS DUTIES), 33 (NAVIGATION AND NAVIGABLE WATERS), and 46 (SHIPPING),
  • The Maritime Transportation Security Act, 46 U.S.C. § 70101 et seq.,
  • The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2004, Pub. L. No. 108-293 of 2004, §701-708, 118 Stat. 1028,
  • The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2006, Pub.L. 109-241, 120 Stat. 516,
  • COGSA (Since the 2006 recodification of Title 46 of the U.S. Code, see Pub. L. No. 109-304, 120 Stat. 1485 (Oct. 6, 2006), COGSA has been uncodified.)
  • The Harter Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 30701-07,
  • The Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 30104-05,
  • The LHWCA, 33 U.S.C. § 901 et seq.,
  • The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, 33 U.S.C. § 1901 et seq., and
  • The Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq. 
Federal Agency Regulations  
  • 33 C.F.R.— NAVIGATION AND NAVIGABLE WATERS (Parts 6, 26, 101, 103-06, 126, 128 & 160-65), and
  • 46 C.F.R.— SHIPPING (Parts 2, 31, 71, 91, 115, 126 & 176) 
 International Materials 
  • International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 28 UST 3459, TIAS 8587, 1050 UNTS 16, as amended, TIAS 10672, 1143 UNTS 346
  • International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974, 32 UST 47, TIAS 9700
  • International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law Relating to Bills of Lading and Protocol of Signature (“Hague Rules”), 51 Stat. 233, TS 931, 120 L.N.T.S. 155
  • Protocol to Amend the International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law Relating to Bills of Lading (“Visby Amendments”)
  • International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 1973/1978)
Treatises and Newsletters 
  • Benedict on Admiralty
  • Bender’s Maritime Bulletin 
Key Organizations  
As our economy grows ever more global, an understanding of admiralty law becomes more valuable. Current hot issues such as piracy and terrorism, marine environment (including ship source pollution), and offshore drilling implicate admiralty jurisdiction, so becoming familiar with the fundamental precepts of this esoteric field may enhance your marketability.