A Guide to Understanding What Is Maritime Law

Did you know there are specific laws the govern the waters of the world? Read this guide to understanding what is maritime law.

Maritime law is one area of law that can cause the most confusion. After all, how can you govern and regulate a body of water?

It’s not the water you need to be concerned with, but rather the industries that rely on it. Most global trade happens because of the shipping industry.

You might hear maritime law referred to the law of the sea or admiralty law. Are you curious to know and understand the laws that rule waters around the world?

Read on to learn what is maritime law and how the common seas are regulated and enforced.

What is Maritime Law?

Maritime law is the field of law that decides how legal disputes that happen in common or international waters gets handled.

The incidents and disputes can be related to shipping accidents, oil spills, cargo damage, and employee injuries. It can also be applied to recreational waters, which means that jet skis and recreational boaters are subject to maritime law, too.

Criminals see international waters as a haven for their activities, but maritime law can cover piracy and drug activities.

Maritime Law vs. Admiralty Law vs. The Law of the Sea

As we mentioned earlier, maritime law is referred to as Admiralty law or the law of the sea. Sometimes, these terms are used interchangeably, but there can be some differences between them.

Maritime Law and Admiralty Law are used interchangeably and are typically one and the same. In many English-speaking countries, you may hear Admiralty used more than Maritime. It still refers to the law that governs the open waters.

The Law of the Sea refers to The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was approved by 167 countries in 1982. This is what is used to govern international waters.

Who Decides Maritime Law?

This is where maritime law can get a little complex. Maritime law often depends on which government oversees the body of water where the incident happened.

For example, American waters are typically upheld by federal law. Each country that has a natural border with water, like England, Spain, and Portugal has its own maritime laws.

In waters within the U.S., the Coast Guard is responsible for enforcing maritime law. The Coast Guard can ask to come aboard your vessel, search the vessel, and make arrests if maritime laws are broken.

In international waters, regulations and maritime force are applied by the International Maritime Organization, which is a part of the United Nations.

The Jones Act

In maritime law, you may also hear about the Jones Act. The Jones Act of 1920 is the body of federal law that oversees maritime commerce in the United States.

It’s also called the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. The law states that any goods shipped between American ports must be shipped on ships that are operated, built, and owned by American citizens or permanent residents.

The Jones Act also gave labor rights to the crew and allowed them to seek damages from the shipping company, captain and other crew members if they were injured.

Some see this as a major reason why it’s so expensive to ship goods between states, especially to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Alaska. That’s because there are few ships that can qualify for the Jones Act’s regulations.

They argue that in light of cheaper shipping companies around the world, American shipping companies cost more. In case you ever wondered why Hawaii has a “Price of Paradise,” you can blame it on the Jones Act.

How to Navigate Maritime Law

There are many different types of incidents that can happen where maritime law needs to be applied. These are some of the common areas.

Passenger Rights

Don’t forget that maritime law applies to cruise ships, too. You’ve probably heard about a number of cruise ship accidents. Some of them can cause injury and harm to passengers.

Passengers may have a right to seek damages in these instances. They also have the responsibility to obey maritime laws when they’re traveling in international waters.

Right of the Crew

Seamen and women also have the right to seek damages if they were injured on the job. They also have a right to get treatment for their injuries.

Accidents and Spills

Maritime law for spills and boating accidents are among the most common disputes in international waters. They can also happen in American waters, too.

Some of the most damaging spills happened in American waters. For example, the Exxon Valdez incident in 1989 spilled over 11 million gallons of oil in the Prince William Sound.

You might also recall the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. That major incident resulted in several deaths on the job and spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico for almost three straight months. This incident led many to ask about maritime laws that govern how widows are compensated and whether or not they should be changed.

Understanding Maritime Law Basics

Whether you’re a recreational boater or a commercial shipper, you should at least know the basics of maritime law. Should you ever end up in an accident in common waters, you could end up in court.

What is maritime law? It’s a complex part of the legal system because there are so many countries that have a vested interest in it. Countries largely depend on maritime law for economic reasons. That’s how global trade happens.

It also touches other parts of our society, from employment to human rights.  With maritime law, it’s important to remember that it can be difficult to navigate and understand, especially in international waters.

You definitely want to make sure that you know what maritime law is and have a team of experts who can help you through any potential legal scenarios.

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