4.10.2010

Salvaging a Paper on Salvage

For me, this Saturday afternoon is largely about a paper on the civil law history of the law of maritime salvage.  Now that must sound absolutely dusty and irrelevant.

But in tracing the peculiar legal concept back to its Rhodian roots from about 900 B.C., it's interesting to note that part of U.S. law stems not from a Common Law heritage, but from an ancient, preexisting body of law that a distinct set of English courts adopted, encapsulated, modified slightly, and passed on to the colonial courts.  It's law that continued to appear in various legal codes over time...it's more properly considered civil law steeped in a Roman or Continental legal tradition.  That notion applies to a good deal of U.S. admiralty and maritime - that's why the U.S. Constitution granted courts a separate, distinct jurisdiction in these areas.

Here's a provision from the Rhodian Sea Codes, later adopted by the Romans and obviously translated into English:

Article XLV: "If a ship be surprised at sea with whirlwinds, or be shipwrecked, any person saving anything of the wreck, shall have one-fifth of what he saves."

Briefly, the concept of "pure salvage" remains in U.S. law today, administered by federal judges under the 1989 International Convention on Salvage (or at least that's the decisional law that should control, theoretically) and likely informed by existing U.S. case law.  The principle of salvage rewards voluntary action by a salvor to save imperiled marine property, such as a vessel, and compensation for a successful effort is based on a number of factors largely focused on the difficulty and risk of the salvage operation.  This principle, in alignment with the Roman concept of negotiorum gestio, stands at odds with much of our common law legal heritage, which generally does not grant compensation from the owner to reward voluntary, unbidden behavior by another party.

If you're still interested, somehow, here's a bit more on marine salvage.