What is Maritime Law?

What is Maritime Law?

Maritime Law governs the contracts for the hiring and use of ships, the manning, repair, and insuring of ships, accidents involving ships on the water or ashore, and the registration, financing, supplying, operation, and salvage of ships.

Maritime Law does not govern contracts for the construction or sale of ships, those matters are also intertwined with maritime law issues.

Maritime Law is one of the oldest and most vital forms of international law. Maritime codes originally developed in ancient seaports from the need to provide predictable, acceptable rules to govern trading ships, their commerce and their crews, as they carried passengers and goods from place to place.

Merchants and ship owners would be understandably reluctant to send their ships to ports where arbitrary local laws could expose them to unexpected legal procedures, long delays, prosecution of their crews and the possible loss of their ships due to legal claims. To address those concerns and attract trade, ports would publish maritime codes addressing the duties of ship owners and masters, the treatment of stranded or injured crews, the resolution of cargo claims, and the disposition of collision cases, among other things.

Maritime Law would also spell out special procedures, designed to meet the needs of international maritime commerce. As with any other body of law, the precise contours of current maritime law within each national jurisdiction depends greatly upon how it has been developed and enacted within that country.

In the USA, Maritime Law is Federal Law, to be found, developed, and interpreted by the federal district courts as a matter of express constitutional authority. Article III of the Constitution provides that “the judicial power shall extend to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.”

Today, maritime trade is perhaps even more vital than it was in ancient times, and the importance of well-established international norms of maritime law is even greater. Yet many of the concepts, standards, and practices of maritime law are unique and can produce outcomes much different than what might be expected under the civil or common law applicable in other areas of economic life.

As a result, to understand the specific provisions of Maritime Law, one should start with an understanding of the fundamentals and the scope of Maritime Law.

The foundation of Maritime Law is a significant body of well-established common law, developed from ancient practices of maritime commerce and from the decisions of maritime courts applying those standards of traditional Admiralty Law, in what has become known in the U.S. courts as the general Maritime Law.

Maritime Law also includes statutory enactments, many of which are driven by, or at least based upon, international conventions and agreements, as well as established maritime customs.

Maritime Law has developed apart from, and somewhat in tension with, local civil laws. It has done so because the fundamental purpose of Maritime Law is different from that of the civil law. While the civil law developed to help maintain a civil society and resolve disputes between members of a single nation, Maritime Law developed to promote the just and speedy resolution of disputes among persons from possibly different countries involved in maritime commerce.

In UK, the admiralty courts often battled the civil courts, for reasons more related to access to court fees and jurisdictional power than legal policy and jurisprudence.

In the United States, the tension between admiralty courts and local courts has been more affected by the tensions inherent in federal form of government. The designation of a matter as an admiralty matter brings it within federal jurisdiction, and makes it subject to the federal Maritime Law. The necessary consequence is that the state law that would otherwise apply is supplanted by the federal rule of decision. To balance the national interest in a uniform maritime law with the local state interest in preserving state jurisdiction over local matters, the federal Judiciary Acts have noted that the federal courts have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the states over any civil case of admiralty or maritime jurisdiction, but then goes on, saving to suitors in all cases all other remedies to which they are otherwise entitled this is referred to as the Savings to Suitors Clause.

Under Savings to Suitors Clause, maritime cases are federal cases, subject to Federal Maritime Law, and within the jurisdiction of the federal courts. However, those maritime cases that present issues traditionally within state common law jurisdiction, in other words contract and tort cases, can still be tried in state courts.

Maritime Law’s scope remains in tension with the scope of state and other federal laws. Maritime Law continues to adapt to changing commercial practices and demands, such as those posed by inter-modal shipping, mixed sale, purchase, and delivery contracts, amphibious vehicles, and changing financial, social and employment standards.

Traditional rule of thumb remains generally true, matters that involve ships, or the movement of goods or people by water, will likely involve some aspect of Maritime Law.

Maritime Law is a body of law applicable to maritime commerce and ships. The key to understanding maritime law is to understand that it has developed to promote maritime commerce, which is matter of international concern and practice.

As a result, while most maritime countries have their own Maritime Law, the principles of Maritime Law are mostly consistent among maritime nations, and decisions based on General Maritime Law principles are widely recognized around the world.

Much of United States and International Maritime Law developed from English admiralty law as first applied by local English maritime courts and then the English High Court of Admiralty, a special court under the authority of the Lord High Admiral formed to deal with maritime-specific issues in 1339.

Maritime Law is a unique area of law that includes laws and regulations drawn from international conventions, federal legislation, agency regulations, and judicial precedents, comprising a substantial body of common law developed from ancient maritime sea codes to the present.

As a result, finding Maritime Law can sometimes be a challenge. On the other hand, Maritime Law has traditionally sought to be uniform that is, consistent not only between jurisdictions in the United States, but also consistent among countries.

What is Admiralty Law?

Admiralty law, also known as maritime law, is a distinct body of law which governs maritime questions and offenses. This area of law is a combination of domestic law on maritime activities, private international law governing the relationships between private entities which operate vessels on the oceans, and public international law relating to navigational rights, sea mineral claims, and jurisdiction over coastal waters.

It covers a wide variety of matters, including shipping; the carriage of goods and passengers by sea; maritime liens and mortgages; salvage; collision; marine pollution; and personal injuries occurring on navigable waters, among others. It also deals with many commercial activities, although land-based or occurring wholly on land, that are maritime in character.

Admiralty law is internationally recognized and highly standardized, albeit with some variations from one country to another. This is because international trade by sea is crucial to the global economy, and it is desirable to have a set of rules that, as far as possible, are uniformly applied.

Maritime legal issues are often handled in specialized courts. In the United States, for example, they are dealt with in the federal courts, and the United States admiralty court has its own distinct rules of procedure.

Jurisdiction: Admiralty law generally applies to all vessels in the sea, regardless of their flag state. However, when a vessel is within a country’s territorial waters (usually up to 12 nautical miles from the coast), the laws of that country also apply. Some maritime activities, like piracy, are considered universal crimes and can be prosecuted by any nation.

Maritime Liens: Maritime liens are claims against a vessel for services rendered or damages caused by the vessel. They are unique in that they follow the ship, not the owner, and can be enforced by selling the ship, even under a new owner.

Salvage: This involves the rescue of a ship and its cargo from danger at sea. Salvors have a claim on the value of what they saved, and the admiralty courts decide on their reward based on factors like the value of the saved property, the risk to the salvors, and the degree of danger the ship was in.

Collision and Marine Casualties: Admiralty law governs the responsibility and liability when a ship collides with another ship, a dock, or other property. There are detailed international regulations for preventing collisions at sea (COLREGS), and their violation can be used as evidence of negligence.

Carriage of Goods: Carriage of goods by sea is usually governed by bills of lading, a type of contract. The rules are largely standardized internationally, particularly by the Hague-Visby Rules and the Hamburg Rules.

Marine Insurance: This is a key part of admiralty law. It covers losses by maritime perils, which can be very broadly defined.

Maritime Labor: Seafarers have certain rights and protections under admiralty law, particularly from the Maritime Labour Convention.

Marine Pollution: There are strict laws against polluting the oceans, and ships can be heavily fined for violations.

Piracy: Piracy is universally illegal under international law, and pirates can be prosecuted by any country that captures them. Modern issues include defining piracy and dealing with the often unclear jurisdictional questions.

Admiralty law is a complex and fascinating area of law with a significant impact on international trade and other maritime activities. Given the growth in global trade, the increase in offshore energy production, and the ongoing need to protect the marine environment, its importance is likely to continue to grow.

Is there a difference between Maritime Law and Admiralty Law?

Maritime law and admiralty law are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they do have subtle differences in their scope and origins.

Admiralty Law: Admiralty law, also known as maritime law, is a body of laws, conventions, and treaties that govern private maritime activities, or activities taking place on open water. This includes all legal matters relating to marine commerce, marine navigation, salvaging wrecks, the transportation of passengers and goods by sea, and marine conservation. It also includes offenses, such as piracy. Historically, admiralty law was part of the laws of the sea, a separate body of law that governs sovereign rights and responsibilities on the high seas. It comes from the term “admiralty,” which refers to the office of an admiral, who originally had judicial and administrative responsibilities over maritime affairs.

Maritime Law: Maritime law, as a term, is often used interchangeably with admiralty law, especially in the United States. However, in a broader context, maritime law can be seen to cover a wider set of legal topics that extend beyond private maritime affairs. This includes issues related to maritime labour, marine pollution, marine insurance, the carriage of goods by sea, and other related topics. Some jurisdictions differentiate between the terms by using “maritime law” to refer to the laws governing maritime activities in both the private and public sectors.

While both admiralty and maritime law deal with legal issues occurring on the sea or involving marine activities, admiralty law is historically more focused on private maritime affairs and originated from the judicial and administrative duties of the admiral. On the other hand, maritime law may be used in a broader context to cover more extensive legal issues related to both public and private maritime affairs, although these distinctions can vary by jurisdiction.


Maritime Law vs Admiralty Law

These two terms are frequently employed interchangeably, but they were not synonymous in the past. The term admiralty had its origins in a judicial court within American and English colonies. This particular court held authority over contracts and torts relating to the sea, and over time, its jurisdiction expanded to encompass all navigable waters, not solely the sea, and to include any losses and injuries.

However, maritime law emerged as a response to the growing need for addressing and rectifying the hazardous conditions encountered in offshore commercial activities. Early admiralty laws often favored shipowners and restricted the rights of their workers. Conversely, maritime law demonstrated greater favor towards seamen, acknowledging their perilous working conditions, meager wages, and their vulnerability aboard the vessels they served on.

Presently, there exists no distinction between admiralty law and maritime law, and these terms are used interchangeably. These legal frameworks encompass a wide range of cases, including contracts, torts, injuries, and other offenses that occur on any navigable waterway.

Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, is a realm where the two terms are used interchangeably. The profound influence of British admiralty courts on the evolution of maritime law in the United States cannot be underestimated. Congress and the Supreme Court have entrusted the federal district courts with the responsibility of adjudicating maritime cases, distinct from cases occurring on land.

Throughout history, a traditional Law of the Sea has assigned the liability for injured seafarers directly to the vessel owner. For instance, ship owners have an obligation to provide “maintenance and cure” in the event of an injury on board, encompassing medical treatment and living expenses until the sailor is fit to resume duty.

Over the course of time, additional maritime laws have been introduced to further delineate the criteria for being recognized as a seafarer and the available recourse for such workers. Before we delve into those details, let us outline the circumstances and jurisdictions where maritime or admiralty law is applicable.


Jurisdiction for Maritime Law and Admiralty Law

The jurisdiction over matters pertaining to admiralty and maritime law rests with the federal courts. These statutes provide comprehensive guidelines elucidating regulations and rules governing torts, contracts, and the proper handling of maritime and admiralty cases. While inherently federal in nature, there are instances wherein state courts handle admiralty and maritime law cases.

Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, is a body of laws, conventions, and treaties that govern private maritime business and other nautical matters, such as shipping or offenses occurring on open water. Its jurisdiction and enforcement vary widely, often depending on the nature of the matter at hand and the countries involved.

Here are some broad principles on jurisdiction for maritime and admiralty law:

  1. Flag State Jurisdiction: This is the primary form of jurisdiction recognized in maritime law. Ships are subject to the jurisdiction of the state whose flag they fly, known as the “flag state.” The flag state has the authority to enforce regulations over matters such as ship safety and pollution prevention.
  2. Port State Jurisdiction: When a ship is in the port of another state, that state has jurisdiction to enforce certain regulations, especially those related to environmental protection, vessel condition, and onboard living and working conditions.
  3. Coastal State Jurisdiction: Coastal states have the right to exercise jurisdiction in their territorial waters, which usually extend 12 nautical miles from the coast. Within this area, the coastal state can enforce its laws over foreign ships to an extent greater than it can in the high seas but less than it can for ships flying its own flag.
  4. Universal Jurisdiction: Some serious maritime offenses, such as piracy, slave trade, unauthorized broadcasting, and illicit drug trafficking, are subject to universal jurisdiction. This means any state can apprehend and punish those responsible, regardless of the location of the offence or the nationality of the perpetrators or the victims.

Moreover, disputes under maritime law can be adjudicated in a variety of venues. Each country generally has its own courts which hear maritime cases, often these are specialized “admiralty courts”. Internationally, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is a venue for disputes between nations about maritime matters.


What types of incidents are covered by Maritime Law and Admiralty Law?

Maritime and admiralty laws typically encompass a fusion of international and United States legislations that govern agreements, civil wrongs, harm, and transgressions transpiring on navigable waters. These occurrences may entail, but are not restricted to, the subsequent:

  1. Shipping mishaps resulting in the impairment of commercial cargo or vessels.
  2. Oversights and inaccuracies committed by proprietors of commercial vessels.
  3. Acts of piracy and other forms of illicit activities.
  4. Breach of contract and/or fraudulent practices.
  5. Ecological contamination arising from the leakage or spilling of hazardous substances.
  6. Unlawful fatalities or injuries inflicted upon employees.
  7. Negligent ship owners who neglect to adhere to labor regulations.

These are merely a selection of instances that could potentially fall under the purview of maritime and admiralty law. Vessel owners and operators, including those responsible for cruise ships, are obligated to maintain a specific standard of care for both their commodities and passengers. Incidents transpire when they neglect to fulfill this responsibility.


Conditions of Maritime and Admiralty Law

Maritime and admiralty law serve as safeguards for employees in the event of injury or fatality while fulfilling their occupational responsibilities. To qualify for a claim under admiralty or maritime law, three prerequisites must be fulfilled:

  1. A vessel must be involved.
  2. The incident must have transpired on navigable waters.
  3. The incident must have taken place during the execution of the worker’s job-related duties.

The realm of maritime and admiralty laws often resides in a perplexing domain, where claims become the subject of controversy and intricacy. It is not always a straightforward matter, and at times, distinguishing between what falls under maritime or admiralty jurisdiction can be challenging.


Maritime Law and Admiralty Law Terminology 

In order to gain a comprehensive comprehension of maritime and admiralty law, one must acquaint themselves with the legal jargon that accompanies it. For instance, what are the precise definitions of “navigable ‘water'” and “vessel”? Vessels, in particular, encompass a wide range of watercraft, such as yachts, fishing vessels, dredgers, cargo and supply ships, barges, tugboats, crew boats, cruise liners, tankers, towboats, and offshore oil platforms.

Navigable waters may encompass vast oceans, serene lakes, meandering bayous, flowing rivers, and/or adjacent harbors. A seasoned maritime and admiralty legal expert possesses the knowledge to elucidate where your particular circumstances fit within this framework.


Statute of Limitations for Maritime and Admiralty Law

Similar to most other types of cases, legal matters pertaining to maritime or admiralty law must be initiated within a specific timeframe. This designated duration is commonly known as the statute of limitations. Numerous factors come into play when determining the statute of limitations, particularly in the context of maritime and admiralty law.

Death on the High Sea Act: Individuals representing the deceased, such as family members or authorized parties, are allowed to lodge a claim for wrongful death within a span of three years. However, it is important to note that claims filed under Florida state laws may be subject to a considerably shorter statute of limitations.

Longshore Harbor and Workers’ Compensation Act: In order to qualify for compensation, a plaintiff wishing to file a lawsuit under this act must do so within one year of the accident or incident. Alternatively, a longshoreman may also initiate legal proceedings within one year of the termination of their LHWCA benefits.

Jones Act: Any claims or legal actions related to personal injuries brought under this act must be commenced within three years from the date of the accident, or within three years from the date the victim became aware of their injuries.

Cruise Line Passenger Claims: Generally, cruise lines incorporate contractual provisions that strip passengers of their rights under admiralty and maritime law. One of the provisions frequently included is the waiver of the standard three-year statute of limitations, substituting it with a one-year timeframe.

Like any other statutes of limitation, cases not presented to the court within the prescribed timeframe are likely to be rejected. Consequently, if you fail to file your claim within the designated period, you will be unable to seek compensation for the accident or incident in which you suffered as a victim.


Comprehending Maritime Law

In the majority of advanced societies, maritime law adheres to a distinct set of regulations and operates as a separate legal jurisdiction apart from national legislations. The United Nations (UN), via the International Maritime Organization (IMO), has promulgated numerous conventions that can be enforced by the naval forces and coast guards of nations that have ratified the treaty elucidating these principles.

Maritime law governs numerous insurance claims pertaining to vessels and cargo, as well as civil disputes involving ship proprietors, seafarers, and passengers, and acts of piracy. Moreover, maritime law oversees the procedures for ship registration, licensing, and inspection, shipping contracts, maritime insurance, and the transportation of goods and passengers.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), which was established in 1948 as the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization and came into effect in 1958, bears the responsibility of ensuring the continual relevance of existing international maritime conventions while also developing new agreements when necessary.

Presently, there exist numerous conventions that regulate every facet of maritime commerce and transportation. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) designates three conventions as its fundamental pillars:

  • The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea
  • The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships
  • The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers

The responsibilities for implementing IMO conventions for ships registered within their respective nations lie with the governments of the 175 member states of the International Maritime Organization. As for the ships under their jurisdiction, local authorities ensure compliance with the provisions of these conventions and determine the penalties for any violations. On certain occasions, vessels are required to possess onboard certificates as proof of inspection and adherence to the prescribed standards.


History of Maritime Law

The origins of maritime law can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where vessels were employed for the transportation of commodities. During that era, the establishment of a clearly defined set of regulations was imperative to ensure the safety of maritime trade and the resolution of disputes between various parties.

Nonetheless, it was not until a later period that the initial written documentation of formal codes emerged. The Rhodian Sea Laws, established between 900 and 300 B.C., prescribed official regulations for the Mediterranean Sea. These laws governed the maritime trade within the region, exerting influence on the Romans and enduring for an extensive duration.

Over the subsequent centuries, European maritime laws underwent gradual development. Integral advancements that contributed to the shaping of contemporary legislation included the Consulate of the Sea, the Rolls of Oléron, and the early English Admiralty laws, which would subsequently shape the maritime laws of the United States.

The arrival of maritime law in the United States can be traced back to the 1600s. However, it was not until 1789 that federal district courts were granted jurisdiction over admiralty law cases, leading to the establishment of a unified body of legal principles.


Ship Registration Under Maritime Law

The nationality of a ship is determined by its country of registration. In the case of most ships, the national registry corresponds to the country where the shipowners reside and conduct their business.

Shipowners often opt to register their vessels in countries that permit foreign registration. These countries, known as “flags of convenience” (FOC), offer advantageous opportunities for tax planning and the utilization of lenient local regulations. Some examples of FOC countries include Panama, Liberia, and the Marshall Islands (MI).


What is Maritime Law and Why is it Important?

Maritime law encompasses the comprehensive set of regulations that oversee all activities taking place within the vast expanse of the sea and open waters. These regulations serve the noble purpose of elucidating and resolving diverse disputes that may arise, while safeguarding the righteous conduct of individuals and organizations operating on the aqueous realm.

Who Exerts Authority Over Maritime Law?

The governance of international maritime law falls under the jurisdiction of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Functioning as a specialized agency within the United Nations, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is tasked with establishing the structure and guidelines pertaining to the safety, security, and ecological conduct of maritime transportation on a global scale.


What is the distinction between Maritime Law and Law of the Sea?

Maritime Law and the Law of the Sea are two related but distinct areas of law. Both deal with legal issues arising out of human activities in the world’s oceans and other navigable waters, but they each have a unique focus and scope.

  1. Maritime Law, also known as Admiralty Law, is a body of laws, conventions, and treaties that govern private maritime business and other nautical matters, such as shipping or offenses occurring on open water. It is primarily concerned with matters including marine commerce, marine navigation, sailors, and the transportation of passengers and goods by sea. For example, if a ship collides with another vessel at sea and cargo is lost, or if there are disputes between the ship owners, crew, and passengers, maritime law would govern these scenarios. Maritime law is a mix of international law and laws enacted by individual countries.
  2. Law of the Sea, on the other hand, is a part of international public law that governs the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources. It’s a framework derived primarily from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international treaty which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans. It covers issues like navigation rights, sea mineral claims, economic zones, and the legal status of the maritime areas such as territorial seas, contiguous zones, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), continental shelf, and the high seas.

The primary distinction between maritime law and the law of the sea is the sphere of issues they deal with. Maritime law deals more with private maritime disputes, contracts, torts, marine insurance, and related issues. In contrast, the law of the sea is more focused on public international law aspects, including the delineation of maritime boundaries, navigation rights, and the protection and conservation of the marine environment.

Maritime law commonly pertains to matters of private shipping, while the law of the sea is predominantly acknowledged as pertaining to public international law. In essence, the latter dictates the conduct that nations ought to adhere to in maritime settings.


When Does US Admiralty Law Apply?

According to international maritime regulations, the flag hoisted by a vessel determines the jurisdiction of the maritime laws. The maritime regulations of the nation whose flag the ship flies must be adhered to by both the vessel and its crew. Maritime law extends its applicability not only to oceanic vessels but also to any watercraft navigating a waterway.

Any entity, whether a company or an individual, subject to admiralty law, cannot initiate a lawsuit or lodge a complaint outside of the jurisdiction of admiralty courts. Additionally, other courts are prohibited from interfering with admiralty courts through legislative actions or overturning their rulings. In rare instances, some states may possess concurrent jurisdiction, although such cases are highly exceptional


How Far Out to Sea Do a Maritime Nation’s Laws Extend?

Every nation with a coastline possesses “territorial waters” wherein local legislation holds sway. While these regulations may differ among nations, the most expansive regions are typically under the dominion of maritime countries, denoting those encompassed by water on all sides. Maritime nations enjoy the following privileges:

  1. Territorial waters that span a distance of 12 nautical miles from their shoreline.
  2. The authority to prohibit passage by sea or air through this domain.
  3. The entitlement to impose limitations on fishing activities and the extraction of natural resources within these waters.
  4. The establishment of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) extending up to 200 miles out to sea, granting control over marine life and mineral resources within this expanse.

Beyond the territorial waters of any nation lies the vast expanse of the high seas. Devoid of any jurisdiction tied to the land, the maritime laws of a vessel’s home country shall govern its operations.


What is the purpose of Maritime Law?

Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, is a body of laws, conventions, and treaties that govern private maritime business and other nautical matters, such as shipping or offenses occurring on open water. It has a broad purpose, including but not limited to the following:

  1. Regulation of Shipping and Navigation: Maritime law provides rules and standards for the operation of ships and vessels, including safety standards, environmental standards, and the rights and responsibilities of seafarers.
  2. Resolution of Disputes: Maritime law provides a legal framework for resolving disputes related to maritime activities. These might involve issues such as collisions at sea, maritime insurance claims, or disputes between shipowners and charterers.
  3. Protection of Maritime Workers: Maritime law provides for the rights and protections of seamen, including their working conditions, compensation, and the provision of care in the event of injury or illness.
  4. Protection of the Marine Environment: Maritime law contains provisions intended to prevent and respond to pollution of the sea and other forms of environmental damage caused by maritime activities.
  5. Maritime Commerce: It sets out rules and regulations regarding commercial activities at sea, including trade, transportation of goods and passengers, salvage operations, and marine insurance.
  6. Piracy and Maritime Security: Maritime law also deals with issues related to maritime security and the prevention and punishment of piracy and other criminal activities at sea.

The purpose of maritime law is to regulate all matters related to nautical commerce and navigation, to resolve maritime disputes, to protect the marine environment, and to ensure safety and security at sea.

The objective of maritime law is to regulate matters pertaining to private, international, and domestic nautical affairs. In a more precise context, these regulations safeguard seafarers who have encountered injuries and grant them the right to seek compensation and various entitlements.


Maritime Laws That Protect Injured Seamen

The maritime industry is subject to a specific set of laws and regulations that protect the rights of seamen, especially in the event of injury. These laws include:

  1. The Jones Act (1920): This law, also known as the Merchant Marine Act, provides the legal framework for seamen to claim compensation if they are injured while performing their duties at sea. The Jones Act allows injured seamen to sue their employers for negligence. This includes the lack of proper maintenance of equipment, poor training, and unsafe working conditions. Importantly, the act has a lower burden of proof for negligence compared to most common law systems, making it easier for seamen to claim and receive compensation.
  2. The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA, 1920): DOHSA allows families of seamen who lost their lives while performing their duties on the high seas to claim damages. The high seas are generally considered to be waters at least three miles from the shore of any country. The act provides for recovery of pecuniary loss, including loss of financial support and services, funeral expenses, and nurture and guidance to surviving children.
  3. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA, 1927): This act provides compensation for medical care and vocational rehabilitation services to employees disabled from on-the-job injuries that occur on the navigable waters of the United States, or in adjoining areas used in loading, unloading, repairing, or building certain types of vessels. It also provides compensation for specific types of disability and death benefits to survivors of workers who are killed on the job.
  4. Maintenance and Cure: This is an ancient doctrine of maritime law that requires a shipowner to provide for an injured seaman’s medical care (cure) and basic living expenses (maintenance) until they have reached maximum medical improvement. It does not matter whether the seaman’s injury was anyone’s fault; if it occurred while they were in the service of the vessel, they are entitled to maintenance and cure.
  5. The Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA, 2010): This act protects seamen from retaliation for reporting safety violations to the U.S. Coast Guard or other federal agencies. It provides for job reinstatement and back pay for seamen who are fired or discriminated against for “whistleblowing” activities.

These laws ensure that seamen have legal rights and protections in the event of an injury or accident while at sea. They also provide a mechanism for the injured party or their family to receive financial compensation and support in such instances.


1- The Jones Act (1920)

The Jones Act is a federal statute that provides compensation to seafarers or ‘individuals engaged or employed in any capacity on board a vessel’ for their job-related injuries. It deals with matters concerning the transportation of goods or people between ports within the same country and maritime commerce. Additionally, it safeguards sailors from exploitation by their employers. Pursuant to the Jones Act, employers are obligated to ensure a safe working environment for their employees and furnish them with medical care. It also encompasses regulations pertaining to vessel maintenance, safety equipment, as well as the licensing, training, and qualifications that crew members must possess. Similar to the Death On the High Seas Act, this legislation mandates the demonstration of another party’s negligence as the cause of such injuries.

Seafaring employees have a three-year window from the date of their injury to initiate a lawsuit. Failure to do so may result in the dismissal of their case. Common legal claims filed under the Jones Act range from allegations of equipment masters, crew, or vessel unseaworthiness to claims for punitive damages and wrongful death. To be considered a seaman under the Jones Act, an employee must spend a minimum of 30% of their working time on board the vessel where they are employed. However, this percentage is not absolute, and it is advisable to consult a Jones Act attorney to determine if you may be eligible for compensation.

2- The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA, 1920)

The Death On the High Seas Act, commonly known as DOHSA, grants compensation to the families of maritime workers who lost their lives aboard a vessel situated three or more nautical miles away from the coastline. Established in 1920, Death On the High Seas Act, (DOHSA) presently provides restitution for financial losses, as well as for the emotional distress and trauma associated with the demise of a family member. Furthermore, it was amended in 2000 to encompass compensation for incidents involving aircraft that resulted in the fatalities of these workers.

Securing compensation under Death On the High Seas Act, (DOHSA) can be an intricate process since the awarded amount is determined by evaluating the losses incurred due to the absence of the deceased maritime worker’s income. The categories of vessels covered by this legislation include:

  1. Cruise ships
  2. Ferries
  3. Tour boats
  4. Oil rigs
  5. Commercial fishing boats

The proximity to the shoreline is only one of the two factors that qualify a family for compensation under this act. The passing of a loved one while at sea must also be acknowledged as wrongful, negligent, or a consequence of default, with corresponding charges being pressed. Each case of maritime personal injury is unique, and a broad range of negligence can be alleged. For instance, an employer may have failed to provide adequate medical training or neglected to offer sufficient medical care to the deceased employee. A vessel could have capsized or experienced an explosion that led to the death of an employee. Regrettably, shipping companies have sought to evade financial responsibility for the families of deceased seafarers by exploiting Death On the High Seas Act, (DOHSA) to their advantage.

3- The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA, 1927)

This legislation provides remuneration for maritime workers who have sustained injuries while laboring on or in close proximity to navigable waters. The act encompasses specific locations such as areas dedicated to loading and unloading cargo vessels, work sites on piers and decks, as well as spaces allocated for ship repairs.

All workers, regardless of their occupation as shipbreakers, harbor laborers, recreational vessel workers, or office and retail employees, fall within the purview of this act. Nevertheless, employees who are eligible for state compensation or benefits are exempt from coverage under this legislation.

Individuals intending to file a claim under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act must do so within one year from the date of their injury. However, this timeframe can commence even after an employer ceases to provide compensation and benefits. Nonetheless, it is advisable for those who qualify for compensation under this act to submit a formal claim within the one-year deadline, even if their employer is still paying them during their recovery from injury.

The injuries typically encompassed by this legislation encompass permanent disability, death, as well as the loss of organs or limbs. Compensation for injuries is provided for the duration of the injured worker’s recovery and is disbursed on a weekly basis. Employees receive slightly over 66% of their weekly wages.

4- Maintenance and Cure

For seafaring laborers, this specific legislation provides safeguarding in the case of sickness or harm endured while on duty, irrespective of culpability or the circumstances surrounding the accident. Another crucial facet of this legislation is its provision for injured laborers who may find their employers’ compensation insufficient, granting them ample funds to subsist and cover their expenses. Maintenance and Cure is a comprehensive maritime statute asserting the entitlement of seafaring workers to compensation for the following expenditures:

Maintenance – Daily living expenses, encompassing sustenance, attire, and shelter. Cure – Any medical outlays pertaining to the sustained injury.

The Maintenance provision of the law ensures that injured maritime laborers receive recompense until they have fully recuperated medically. However, this compensation is restricted to necessities essential for everyday life and does not encompass luxury items such as internet connectivity or entertainment.

The Cure provision of the law imposes upon employers the responsibility of bearing the costs for all medical expenses linked to an employee’s injury. These expenses encompass medical bills from doctors and hospitals, prescriptions, CT scans, surgeries, transportation to and from medical appointments, and necessary medical apparatus such as crutches.

5- The Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA, 2010)

The Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA) was signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 15, 2010, as part of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010. The legislation aimed to improve the safety and working conditions of mariners aboard U.S. vessels. It was designed to address a range of issues, including whistleblowing protections, working hours, and safety standards, among others.

  1. Whistleblower Protections: The SPA provided protections for mariners who report safety violations to the authorities. This means that seafarers cannot be penalized or discriminated against for disclosing information that they reasonably believe provides evidence of a violation of any law or regulation related to maritime safety or security.
  2. Working Hours and Conditions: The act addressed the issue of fatigue by establishing guidelines and regulations concerning the maximum hours a seaman can work within a given time frame. It aimed to ensure that mariners have enough rest to perform their duties effectively and safely.
  3. Safety Standards: The legislation strengthened safety regulations for vessels and equipment, intending to reduce the risk of accidents or injuries on board.
  4. Enforcement and Penalties: The SPA empowered the Department of Labor to enforce its provisions and imposed substantial penalties on vessel owners and operators who failed to adhere to its regulations. These could include fines and even imprisonment.

The Seaman’s Protection Act brought the U.S. maritime industry in line with many international standards and practices. By protecting mariners from retaliation for reporting safety violations and establishing clear standards for working hours and conditions, the legislation aimed to ensure that the men and women who work at sea are safer and their work environment is more secure.


Passenger Personal Injury

A crane loading cargo containers onto a container ship at the terminal yard Despite not intended for providing coverage to maritime employees, the Passenger Personal Injury legislation falls within the domain of maritime law. Passenger Personal Injury safeguards individuals aboard vessels, including cruise ships, in the event of injuries sustained while at sea. Under this statute, a passenger possesses the right to initiate legal proceedings against a shipowner if they believe the shipowner acted negligently. For instance, if a passenger on a cruise ship fractures their arm due to a defective stair rail, they have the legal option to file a lawsuit. However, cruise ship passengers are typically allowed only one year to commence their lawsuit, in contrast to the standard three-year timeframe provided to passengers on other types of vessels.