The prospect of finding and keeping valuable items from a shipwreck falls under the legal principles of salvage. While some people might hold dreams of keeping this loot, the court system of maritime and admiralty law has different ideas.
This large body of law contains many interesting and surprising provisions.
A broad legal term
According to an article in Marine Insight, salvage regulations and laws have existed for centuries and they cover a broad range of situations. The rules governing an offshore salvage operation will differ from those related to an in-port situation. Environmental salvage operations involve efforts to save the ocean ecosystem due to the damage to a vessel and its cargo.
Even the meaning of a salvage operation changes depending upon the context of the situation. This has important considerations for both the companies performing salvage work and the ship owners hiring a company for salvage.
A general definition
Specific conditions must occur for an operation to fall under the category of salvage. It should involve a ship or vessel, the cargo on board or payable freight from a vessel. All of these properties must face some sort of peril such as falling overboard and being lost under the ocean.
The company performing the salvage operation must do so voluntarily, with no prior obligations. Finally, the contract must spell out a goal that determines payment; the industry calls this “No cure, no pay.”
Contracts that involve salvage situations require clear and precise language and an understanding of legal principles. Otherwise, this could lead to disputes or unexpected obligations on the behalf of shipping companies.