- What is Admiralty Law and where are the origins of it?
- What jurisdictions is this type of law applicable?
- What relevance does this have in the United States legal system?
Admiralty law is the law of the sea and maritime activities. (Admiralty law also applies to boats on the "navigable waters" of the United States such as the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.) It has its roots in a mix of customary international law, treaties related to the law of the sea, and domestic statutes. It is closer in some respects to the law of civil law countries than of common law countries, although it is distinct from both.
In the U.S., admiralty law is part of federal court jurisdiction and the U.S. district courts are our admiralty courts. But, each country with maritime commerce has some version of admiralty law based around a core of customary international law and treaties, with domestic statutes similar to those of other countries statutes dealing with the topic.
Admiralty law is distinctive and different from domestic law in a variety of circumstances, most notably:
The law governing when a ship can be detained in port to make a judgment in an admiralty proceeding against it enforceable. This is similar to a writ of attachment in domestic law (a pre-judgment seizure of assets to make a potential judgment collectable) but more broadly available.
The rights of seamen vis-a-vis their employers.
The relevance of the flag under which a ship sails.
The "traffic laws" of the sea.
The duties of a ship that encounters another ship or individuals in distress at sea.
The duties of a ship that encounters hostile others parties, such as pirates, at sea.
The tort law applicable to torts particular to a maritime context that take place at sea. For example, in a collision of ships, or from a failure to honor duties related to distressed ships, or from interference with a ship's commercial activity (e.g. in connection with a fishing expedition).
The law governing property interests and sharing of proceeds from "prizes" such as the salvage of sinking, sunk or abandoned ships.
In general, admiralty law has declined in importance as lots of high value commerce has shifted to air travel, and as ocean going ships have become bigger and better behaved corporate interests, and because modern conditions make ships at sea less isolated from the rest of the world.