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Home > Legal & Financial > Marine Salvage Law

Marine Salvage Law

Frequent question: is it true that if you help anybody at sea you have a right to a compensation or even a percentage of the vessel?

Along the history the salvage has been considered a question of seamanship honour and when a person was in peril it has been always considered an moral obligation and duty for any seaman to rescue him. That is not the same when the recovery is of the ship itself or its cargo then by helping another ship at sea might it might cause also risks for the rescuer as it could put also the salvor in risk. That is why it was very common from the beginning of the maritime law the recognition in all national legislations some basic principles of maritime salvage like the ones of fairness and public policy according to which any person who assist and helps another at sea is entitled to certain kind of remuneration in accordance with the value of the goods salved, including the ship itself.

The salvage situation exists when the pilot, master or ship owner ask for and/or accepts an offer of help from another vessel at sea when goods and/or persons are at risk due to bad weather condition, accident, or any mechanical or technical problem in the vessel.

There are mainly three types of salvage: obligatory, voluntary or spontaneous and salvage under contract

  1. The first one is the mandatory or obligatory salvage when the assistance is ordered by the competent maritime authorities, normally for humanitarian reasons, and the omission of help might carry out criminal consequences. In this case the
  2. The second salvage is the voluntary one; the services are not rendered under a pre-existing contract agreement or under official duty or purely for the self-preservation interests of the salvor, and unless
  3. The last one is salvation under contract greed between both parties who usually entered into on the standards of the Lloyd Standard Agreement of Salvage LOF which established the main principle of «no cure, no pay», that means the salvor receives no reward if no property is saved. Special compensation is paid, however, as a reward for efforts to prevent or minimize damage to the environment even if no property is saved under the convention.

By signing a salvage contact the salvor assures he will get compensation or reward from the ship rescued fixed under arbitration procedure, other wise he will have to claim at Court, notwithstanding all difficulties in order to determine applicable law and jurisdiction if both ships have different flag and the salvage is in international waters.

At international level The Brussels Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules with Respect to Assistance and Salvage first established in 1910 the main rules in salvage law granting generally the salvor the possibility of being rewarded in case of salvation. At present these rules have been developed and complied within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in the Sea International Convention On Salvage from 1989, establishing and updating ten different detailed criteria for the valuation of reward in case of salvage at sea.

Finally, just bear in mind that in case that the shipowner would refuse to pay the reward the salvor might arrest the boat as maritime credit by filing claim at Mercantile Court.

By Carlos Espinosa