Any mariner who voluntarily saves property on the navigable waters from a “marine peril” may be considered a “salvor” under maritime law. “Salvage” may entitle the salvor to compensation based upon the value of the property saved. Common acts of salvage include:
Towing a vessel in need
Assisting a vessel that has run aground
Preventing a vessel from sinking
Raising a sunken vessel
In determining whether a salvor is entitled to salvage, courts usually require the following:
There must’ve be a “marine peril” placing the property at risk of loss, destruction, or deterioration.
For there to be a “marine peril,” courts consider whether the property was in a situation that might expose it to loss or destruction (e.g. a vessel on fire). A reasonable apprehension of peril is typically sufficient.
The salvage service must be voluntary. In other words, a salvor cannot claim salvage when he or she had a legal duty to act. For example, a firefighter cannot usually claim salvage for saving a vessel from fire.
The salvage efforts must be successful, in whole or in part.
Courts have followed the same guidance for calculating salvage awards since 1869 (commonly known as the “Blackwall Factors”). These factors consider:
Degree of danger from which the ship was rescued
Post-casualty value of the property saved
Risk incurred in saving the property from impending peril
Promptitude, skill, and energy displayed in rendering the service and salving the property
Value of the property employed by the salvors and the danger to which it was exposed
Costs in terms of labor and materials expended by the salvors in rendering the salvage service.
Historically, salvage awards were intended to encourage salvors to enter into dangerous situations and save distressed property. As such, courts often view salvage awards as a form of “reward” rather than compensation for time and services provided.
If you assisted with the salvage of a vessel and need to discuss salvage with an experienced Admiralty lawyer, Mariner Law, PLLC may be able to help. Call (253) 600-2531 for a free consultation. The firm serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.