What is Maritime Law?

Some people might be more familiar with maritime law under the name of admiralty law. In either case, maritime law includes both national laws and international laws, which is perhaps unsurprising when so much of maritime transportation is international by nature. However, it is important to note that maritime law doesn’t encompass all of the laws about maritime issues that can be found out there, which is why it is important to remember that it is not the same thing as the Law of the Sea.

What Does Maritime Law Cover?

First, maritime law includes national laws on maritime issues. Suffice to say that each country has its own body of laws on maritime issues, though it isn’t uncommon for countries to have been influenced by other countries in this regard. For instance, maritime law received a huge boost in England because of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had learned about it while crusading in the eastern Mediterranean with her first husband Louis VII of France. Overtime, maritime law became more and more important in England and the rest of the English-speaking world, which is why it winded up becoming an element of American law following the American Revolution as well. Unsurprisingly, other countries with common law systems tend to share similarities in this regard, though they are by no means bound to listen to the rulings that have happened in those other countries.

Besides national laws, it is important to note that maritime law includes private international law on the relationships between private parties as well. This makes sense because so much of maritime transportation is international by nature, meaning that cooperation between international parties has been critical. However, while maritime law covers private international law, it excludes public international law, which falls under the name of the Law of the Sea. To illustrate this point, when one private entity saves the property that had been lost by another private entity at sea, what they are entitled to in terms of salvage would be a matter of maritime law. In contrast, if there are a couple of countries that are arguing over sea mineral rights, that would be a matter for the Law of the Sea because they are countries rather than private entities.

Moving on, there are a number of characteristics in maritime law that might prove interesting for people who are curious about maritime matters. For example, shipowners are obligated to provide their seamen with both cure and maintenance. The first means that they are obligated to provide a seaman who has been injured while in service of the ship with medical care at no charge to said individual, which includes both medicines and medical devices that might not address their actual condition but nonetheless improves their ability to function. Meanwhile, the second means that the shipowner is obligated to pay the seaman’s living expenses so long as they are still convalescing. As such, cure is ongoing, whereas maintenance is something that will come to an end once the seaman has recovered to the point that they are capable of going back to work.

On a related note, shipowners have a reasonable duty of care towards their passengers. As a result, it is perfectly possible for passengers who have gotten injured on a ship to bring a lawsuit against the shipowner if their injury was caused by some kind of negligence on the shipowner’s part. However, there are some serious time limitations on when these lawsuits can be brought. Generally speaking, passengers must do so within three years’ time, but if they were on a cruise ship when they were injured, they will need to bring the lawsuit much earlier than that because the terms laid out in their tickets mean even more limitations.

Why Do Sovereign Citizens Cite Maritime Law So Much?

On a final note, some people might have heard of maritime law in the context of sovereign citizens, who are people who reject taxation and otherwise believe that they are not subject to the laws of wherever it is that they reside. Said individuals will often refuse to listen to the courts by claiming that they are admiralty courts based on minor, inconsequential details. However, since sovereign citizens tend to be very individualistic by nature, it isn’t unknown for them to attempt to bring up maritime law in other weird and wacky ways in order to demonstrate that they are not subject to the law.

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