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Salvage And Towage Claims

When a ship is in distress, has run aground, or sunk completely, the general maritime law of the United States grants a person who voluntarily saves the property the right to compensation or a reward. This rule is unique to maritime law, as a volunteer rescuer on land is not granted any award under U.S. law. A “salvage claim” is a claim brought to recover damages for services voluntarily rendered to save or preserve any maritime property in peril on the navigable waters of the U.S.

Most often, the “salvor” (rescuer of the maritime property) will be someone who works for a company which takes on salvage operations professionally. Upon completing a salvage operation, the salvor will often sue the owner of the vessel and the vessel itself (an “in rem” action unique to maritime law) to recover compensation for the rescue.

To recover in a salvage claim, the salvor must prove three elements:

  1. There has been a maritime peril which has placed the maritime property at a risk of loss, deterioration, or destruction.
  2. The salvage operation must have been completed voluntarily, and not required by some existing duty or contract.
  3. The salvage operation must have been successful, in whole or part.

A towage claim is distinct from a salvage claim in that the hallmark of a towage operation is the absence of peril. A towing service is rendered for convenience, not for safety. Simple towage is a service offered by one vessel to another to expedite the voyage of the other, when all that is needed or requested is acceleration of the vessel’s progress. For example, if a sailboat finds itself out at sea during a particularly windless day, the ship is not experiencing a maritime peril, but may request towage services simply to speed up its trip to shore. Notably, compensation for towage services is calculated at a contract rate, while compensation for a salvage claim qualifies for an equitable award.

Our Florida maritime attorneys at Munch and Munch, P.A., have over 30 years’ experience working in maritime law. We have the unique expertise required to protect the rights and remedies of those involved in maritime claims. If you believe that you may have a towage or salvage claim, or that someone may be asserting a towage or salvage claim against you or your vessel, call 888-976-3759 or email us for a free and confidential consultation.