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Marine Salvage Claims

What is Salvage Under Maritime Law?

Salvage is defined under maritime law as the reward or compensation allowed for service in saving maritime property at risk or in distress by those under no legal obligation to render aid. Accordingly, a vessel or crew that renders aid to another vessel, barge, or other maritime property may be able to assert a claim for the value of those efforts. Salvage "is a bounty given on the grounds of public policy to encourage the rescue of life and property imperiled at sea and to foster maritime commerce." Fine v. Rockwood, 895 F. Supp. 306, 1995 AMC 2048 (S.D. Fl. 1995).

What Types of Marine Property are Subject to Salvage?

Any type of maritime property may be subject to salvage. Examples of salvage in the maritime law include floating unattended rafts of logs, wrecked aircraft or vessels, fishing nets, buoys, rafts, skiffs, barges, tugs, ships, or any other maritime property.

What Does it Mean for the Maritime Property to be in Peril?

In order to claim salvage, the maritime property must be in maritime peril. However, the maritime peril does not have to be immediate or absolute; it is sufficient if the maritime property is subject to potential danger or damage. For instance, a vessel that has a mechanical breakdown and is rescued by another vessel in open water will give rise to salvage rights. Similarly, a vessel taking on water or with steering malfunctions is subject to maritime peril.

What Services must be Provided?

The risk involved, expertise required, and extent of effort employed are all factors in setting the amount of the salvage award. However, even minimal service will still support a salvage award. For example, in one case, a marina's services in pumping out a yacht that was taking on water at the dock was held sufficient to support an award for $24,000 for salvage efforts. See Southwest Florida Maritime, Inc. v. Wareikis, 2007 AMC 2358 (Arb. N.Y. 2007).

How is the Amount of the Award Determined?

There is no mathematical formula for the calculation of salvage awards. Rather, the amount of the award is a fact-specific finding in each case where the following factors may be considered by the court in an action brought in rem against the vessel: (1) the labor expended in rending the salvage services; (2) the expertise and skill involved in making the recovery efforts; (3) the value of the property recovered and danger to which the property was exposed; (4) the risk undertaken by the crew in saving the property; and (5) the degree of danger from which the property was rescued. In many of these instances, the claim will be covered by maritime insurance.

Can the Crew of a Salving Vessel Make a Claim?

The crew of a tug or other vessel that participates in salvage may have a right to bring a salvage claim against the salvaged vessel even if the owner of the salving vessel does not assert a claim. For example, in Bartholomew v. Crowley Marine Services, Inc., 337 F.2d 1083, 2003 AMC 1919 (9th Cir. 2003), our lawyers represented the crew of a Crowley tug that engaged in rescue efforts and the court held that individual crew members have claims for salvage even if they are following orders of their vessels' masters if the services they provide are outside the scope of their employment, the employer could not have legally required them to obey the orders, and the employer did not have a contractual agreement with the owner of the salvaged vessel to pay a given sum for the services rendered.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Salvage?

Marine salvage claims are brought in rem against the vessel and are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts. Salvage claims must be brought within two years of providing the salvage service under 46 U.S.C. § 80107(c).