What is Maritime Law?
How do you legally define it?
What are the essential elements you should know!
In this article, we will break down the legal definition of Maritime Law so you know all there is to know about it!
Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!
Let’s dig into our maritime law basics!
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Table of Contents
What Is Maritime Law
Maritime law, also referred to as admiralty law, refers to the body of laws, regulations, codes, conventions, treaties, and other statutes governing maritime businesses and other aspects surrounding maritime activities.
Maritime laws and regulations are designed to:
- Provide legal guidelines to private maritime businesses
- Resolve disputes when it relates to nautical matters
- Provides for offenses, sanctions, and penalties for legal violations
- Deals with any other nautical matters such as shipping and open water operations
- Inspection procedures
- Shipping contracts
- Maritime insurance
- Carriage of goods
- Passenger transportation
The maritime rights and obligations, in general, are defined by the domestic laws relating to maritime activity along with private international laws dealing with the relationship of private parties in oceans and the sea.
In the United States, under Title 28, § 1333, the federal courts have jurisdiction over all maritime issues, claims, and matters.
Maritime Law Definition
How do you define maritime law?
According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, Maritime Law is defined as:
Maritime law is the distinct body of law (both substantive and procedural) governing navigation and shipping.
Maritime law and the admiralty law definition are the same.
Importance of Maritime Law
Maritime rules and laws are important in dealing with many legal aspects relating to marine operations.
These laws and regulations pre-date the U.S. Constitution and have important international roots.
When we deal with shipping, navigation, maritime commerce, towage, maritime liens, or other aspects related to maritime businesses and operations, the maritime laws provide the necessary legal basis to regulate such matters.
When accidents happen on board a ship, there are several types of damages that can be claimed by workers or others injured.
Here is what you can expect to see in the United States:
- Maintenance and Cure entitlements covering living expenses (maintenance) and medical expenses (cure)
- The Jones Act provides compensation when workers can show that the injuries result from the negligence of another party
- The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) providing compensation to workers who are injured on navigable waters on or around adjoining areas such as unloading cargo, ship repair, or decks
- Death on High Seas Act provides compensation relating to maritime accidents caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default causing death that happen more than three miles from the shore of the United States
In addition to dealing with maritime rights and compensation offered to those injured, maritime laws also cover passengers aboard a cruise ship or other vessels in case of injury.
If a passenger is injured on a cruise ship or other vessel, he or she can file a lawsuit or claim against the shipowner for negligence or that of its crew.
Application of Maritime Laws
When do the maritime admiralty laws apply?
Maritime law’s legal procedures and basics are quite different from the “land-based” laws or litigation.
When admiralty or maritime statutes apply, they provide litigation results that are quite surprising to non-maritime lawyers and legal practitioners.
Here are four general principles to know about maritime legislation:
- If a matter is subject to the maritime jurisdiction, the federal maritime laws will apply at the exclusion of other state laws
- In the event of tort on navigable waters, the admiralty laws will govern
- A contractual dispute or a business relationship that is significantly connected to maritime commerce, it is very likely that the maritime laws will govern the private relationship or contract (this is referred to as the “salt water smell”)
- The federal courts hear the majority of the maritime cases although the 1789 Congressional enactment (“saving the suitors” clause) allows state courts to determine certain maritime disputes
International Maritime Law
In many countries around the world, maritime rules and statutes are governed by a separate code.
There are many international conventions and treaties relating to:
- Insurance claims
- Civil disputes
These conventions are mostly issued by the United Nations (UN) through the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
The international maritime regulations are enforceable by the countries that have adhered to the conventions.
In the United States, the admiralty law has been developed on the basis of the British admiralty courts.
As such, the admiralty courts operated separately from the common law courts and equity.
Eventually, with the adoption of the Judiciary Act, the American Congress placed the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction under the federal district courts.
What’s important to note is that common law precedents do not have a binding effect on admiralty courts but can have an influential effect if there are no precedents to deal with a particular case.
Businesses and parties to a contract are not permitted to contractually exclude themselves from the application of maritime laws or the admiralty jurisdiction.
Essentially, the laws applicable to a ship are determined by the ship’s flag.
This means that an American ship navigating in German waters will be governed by American admiralty laws.
List of Maritime Laws
There are many maritime laws governing various aspects of maritime operations and activities.
Here is a list of what you can expect to see:
- International laws relating to oceans and seas (Law of the Sea)
- 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
- Maintenance and Cure
- The Jones Act
- The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)
- Death on High Seas Act
The Maritime Law Association of the United States (MLAUS) is an important association having an objective to advance reforms in the Maritime Law of the United States.
Its objectives are:
- To facilitate justice
- Promote uniformity in its enactments and interpretation
- Provide a forum for discussion
- Act as a constituent member of the Comité Maritime International and as an affiliated organization of the American Bar Association
- Act with other associations to bring harmony to shipping laws and practices
Lawyers, judges, admiralty law professors, and non-lawyers are selected to hold positions in the MLA to help advance its cause and mission.
What does maritime law mean?
What are the maritime laws and regulations?
Is it the same thing as admiralty law?
Let’s look at a summary of our findings on the maritime law meaning.
Related to Maritime Law Basics
Bill of lading
Law of the Seas
Limitation of liability
Maritime Salvage Law
Public International Law
Related to Maritime Laws
How maritime law works
What is a maritime lawyer
What is maritime
When does maritime law apply
Who writes maritime laws