A brief guide to the law of salvage
Salvage is the reward given to persons who voluntarily assist a ship or recover its cargo from impending or actual peril or loss. To make a valid claim of salvage, a claimant must prove:
- the event involved a ship and its cargo, or things committed to and lost at sea or other public, navigable waterways;
- the ship or its cargo have been found or rescued;
- the service performed by claimant must have been of benefit to the property involved in the rescue.
A salvor (one who salvages) must have the intent and capacity of committing a salvage, but need not have the intention of keeping the property. The salvor need not have even given physical assistance to the rescue of the ship or property: in a recent New York case, a ship's captain's decision to keep his ship nearby in case a distressed ship needed help was considered sufficient to support a claim of salvage. See Reynolds Leasing Corp. v. The Tug Patrice McAllister, 572 F.Supp. 1131 (1984 S.D.N.Y.).
Various types of "peril" are allowed. The most common cases involve abandoned ships or ships in danger of sinking. However, as argued by claimants in the first Amistad case, the death or disability of the crew, or the seizing of the ship by pirates, can also support a claim for salvage.
Typically, a salvage must occur on the seas. As such, the salvage claim by Messrs. Green and Fordham is peculiar, in that it involved activity committed entirely inland.
Prepared by Michael Peil for the Legal Information Institute Last updated on 2 December 1997 at 14:30.