Maritime Law 101: Understanding The Basics For Seafarers and Shipowners

Published on: October 13, 2023
Last Updated: October 13, 2023

Maritime Law 101: Understanding The Basics For Seafarers and Shipowners

Published on: October 13, 2023
Last Updated: October 13, 2023

About 70% of our planet’s surface is water. The laws that govern this massive area play a key role in ensuring environmental protection, facilitating international trade, and protecting the rights of seamen and maritime companies.

Understanding the basics of maritime law can help seafarers and shipowners know their rights and obligations.

It can also provide them with the knowledge to protect their businesses in case of claims and lawsuits. 

Maritime Law Overview 

Maritime law is a body of laws that govern private maritime business and other nautical matters such as disputes and offenses.

Maritime Law Overview

It is also known as admiralty law. There are various conventions and treaties that are part of the maritime law.

While maritime laws apply to private business issues, the Law of the Sea is more relevant to international law that applies to public entities.

In other words, Law of the Sea is how nationals should behave in international waters. 

It is the responsibility of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to keep all maritime conventions up to date and develop new conventions or agreements as needed.

It is worth noting that maritime laws follow a separate code and are typically independent of national laws. 

Jurisdiction In Maritime Law 

The jurisdiction of maritime law refers to the legal framework that determines who has the authority to hear and decide on matters related to incidents in navigable waters. This includes private maritime disputes and other nautical issues. 

There are several factors that need to be considered to establish jurisdiction, including the location of the incident and international treaties.

For example, if an incident occurs within the territorial waters of a country, the country’s internal courts could have jurisdiction over the case.

Similarly, if the vessel is at port, the port state would have jurisdiction over the case. Maritime jurisdiction is often complicated, so if you have questions, you should consult with a maritime attorney. 

Rights And Responsibilities of Seafarers and Shipowners

Maritime Injuries 

Injured seafarers, maritime workers, or passengers can file a lawsuit to recover damages for their medical expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Shipowners owe a duty of reasonable care to workers and passengers, and if this duty is breached, they can be held liable for the suffering and damages of the individuals.

The injured individuals can also sue third parties such as shore excursion operators on a cruise ship or a maintenance company. 

Seamen and maritime workers have the responsibility to display a reasonable level of vigilance and alertness to avoid injuries and to comply with safety procedures.

This includes following all safety protocols and procedures, including emergency response. 

The Jones Act is an important law in the maritime industry. This law was established by the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 to govern the shipment of goods in the U.S.

The Jones Act provides the legal basis for governing incidents that result from injuries of maritime workers.

According to this act, an injured worker is entitled to economic and noneconomic damages due to the accident.

Maritime workers are often at a high risk of being injured, and this law helps protect their rights. The Jones Act covers all seamen who meet the eligibility requirements. 

Maritime Liens and Mortgages 

There are several parties in the maritime industry that are paid in credit for their services or products.

Maritime liens refer to the unpaid debts required to operate a maritime business or vessel. In other words, a lien provides security to creditors.

If the shipowner sells the vessel, the ownership change does not dissolve the lien. It is the legal responsibility of a ship owner to honor the lien. 

A maritime mortgage is used to secure a loan for the purchase of a vessel. If the shipowner defaults on the loan, the lender can initiate legal action against the shipowner.

This can include foreclosing of the vessel or a judicial sale of the vessel. The proceeds from the sale can be used to pay off the maritime mortgage and related costs. 

Shipping Vessel Maintenance

Shipping Vessel Maintenance and Damages 

The shipowner has the responsibility to maintain their vessel according to the required safety standards and regulations set by international conventions.

The seaworthiness of the vessel is often a key factor in legal disputes in maritime accidents or cases of injuries. 

The shipowners have the right to manage and control their vessels. If there is any damage, they can sue the liable party. In most cases, they pursue compensation from insurance companies. 

Maritime Law For Environmental Protection

There is growing concern about the impact of increased trade and commerce on the environment.

More specifically, there is concern about the impact of pollution, waste, and other byproducts of trade and commerce on marine life. 

To address these concerns, several international laws and conventions have been established.

For example, the International Convention for Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) has international treaties to minimize marine pollution.

Some maritime projects require Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) to assess the impact of the project on marine life. 

Role of an Attorney In Maritime Law 

As you may have gathered by now, maritime law can get complicated as a result of multiple legal systems, cross-border laws, and environmental concerns.

A maritime lawyer is well-versed in laws related to maritime accidents, injuries, crimes, and other incidents.

Whether you are a seafarer or a shipowner, a maritime lawyer can help you understand your rights and obligations. If you need to file a claim or lawsuit, a maritime lawyer can help guide you through the process and avoid common pitfalls.

If you are a passenger or maritime worker who has been injured at sea, your case may mostly be governed by maritime law.

A maritime attorney can help establish liability for your injuries and gather evidence to build a strong claim for compensation.

Find more maritime lawyers for any maritime-related injuries or other types of cases.

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Written by Allison Langstone

Allison produces content for a business SAAS but also contributes to EarthWeb frequently, using her knowledge of both business and technology to bring a unique angle to the site.