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  • Writer's pictureSarah Whiteford

Fact Friday: Maritime Law

Maritime Law is one of the most interesting legal environments around. The history of maritime and admiralty law stretches back to 900 AD and has fascinating variations from onshore law.

Below, we have compiled some of the more interesting maritime law snippets.

Maritime Law, Maritime Borders

YouTube's @Wendoverpro pulled together an incredibly succinct summary of maritime jurisdiction, in a really accessible format. It explains the basics of the south china sea conflict, and answers the question "What nationality is a baby born on a cruise ship?"

The formation of corporations:

The backbone of free trade and global capitalism, the corporation, was as a result of the high risks associated with shipping in the 1500s.

"In 1580, Queen Elizabeth was the largest shareholder in Sir Francis Drake’s merchant ship The Golden Hind. Naturally, the queen granted Drake’s venture “legal” freedom from liability... in 1600 Queen Elizabeth chartered the limited-liability East lndia Company. ​

Employing her sovereign power, Elizabeth limited the losses of its chartered riskers to their initial monetary or equivalent capital stakes, while continuing their right to receive their proportional profit dividends for as long as the venturing company might exist—in perpetuity. Known later in England as “Ltd.” (for “limited liability”), in France as “Société en Commandite,” in Germany as “Kommanditgesellschaft,” and as “Corporation” under the U.S.A.’s “Inc.” (for incorporated) status..." Fuller, Buckminster. Grunch of Giants . The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller. Kindle Edition.

Speaking of liability...

A wide range of legal precedents and protections exist in maritime law. Here are two of the most recent situations in which they were deployed.

"General Average" was declared on the 17th Jan aboard a container ship which had been subject to an engine fire earlier in the month. According to the GCaptain article: "General Average requires that the shipowner and its customers share a proportionate amount of the costs associated with saving a vessel after a major casualty. When General Average is declared, cargo owners are required to contribute to a GA fund before cargo can be released."

Still Footage recovered from the El Faro Wreck. National Transportation Safety Board CC BY-NC-SA / Via Flickr: ntsb

The MV Conception, El Faro and Stretch Duck 07 are recent examples of lost vessels that use The Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 to limit the value of the potential claims. Under the Act, a shipowner may petition a court to place a cap on its liability for a marine casualty equal to the ship's value after the event - in the case of the Sept 2019 MV Conception incident, zero dollars.

Bonus Points


"Coastlines were once so important to the French that they came up with a verb to name the act of sailing along a coast: caboter. That verb gave rise to the French noun cabotage, which named trade or transport along a coast. In the 16th century, the French legally limited their lucrative coastal trade, declaring that only French ships could trade in French ports. They called the right to conduct such trading cabotage too. Other nations soon embraced both the concept of trade restrictions and the French name for trading rights, and expanded the idea to inland trade as well. Later, English speakers also applied cabotage to the rights that allowed domestic airlines to travel within national boundaries but that prevented foreign carriers from doing so." "Cabotage” Dictionary

Any other interesting maritime law facts? We'd love to hear!

Need more maritime law? check out the maritime law post on Britannica.

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