Salvage is a reward for saving the maritime property of another in danger at sea. All ships have a legal duty to go to the aid of a vessel in distress (ie. in danger at sea) & maintain a listening watch on channel 16.  This is incorporated into the merchant shipping act. Prior to radios it was just “good luck” if a vessel saw another in danger.  Now there are professional companies.

The 1989 Salvage Convention encourages salvors by providing a reward where environmental damage was reduced or prevented. It also reduces liability in contributing to pollution by assisting.

Oringinally salvage was performed by ordinary vessels. Since 1880 specialist salvors have been established. Today, most salvage is performed by specialist salvors and salvage companies.

The common law principal of salvage entitles any vessel to salvage if it assists another in distress (subject to certain criteria). There is a duty to go to the assistance, but there is no “right” to salvage.

The general principals ofsalvage 

“A voluntary successful service provided in order to save maritime property in danger at sea, entitling the salvor to reward”.

Voluntary refers to a voluntary or contractual agreement with the vessel in distress. Contract is now standard, using the Lloyds open form 95.

For example, crew onboard the distressed vessel have a prior duty to assist and as such would not be entitled to a reward. Likewise if the damage is as a result of a collision, the vessel and crew of the colliding vessel have an obligation to assist.

The absence of voluntariness can defeat a claim for salvage. An onboard pilot and crew cannot claim salvage as they have a prior duty to assist. That is, unless, the services rendered are beyond the scope of their employment. The scope of crews duty whilst in employment is considered in the following cases:

Stilk v Myrick 1809 2 Camp 317

Hartley v Ponsonby 1857 7 E&B 872

The San Demetrio 1941 69 LLR 5 looks at the final abandonment,

The Warrior (1862) Lush 476

The Beaver (1800) 3 Ch R 92.

The law of salvage provides an equitable remedy for a salvage service. The award is granted ONLY when the salvage operation had been a success “no cure no pay”. LOF 95 salvage award is proportional to the goods that have been salved, OR where environmental damage has been averted, even if the salvage was not successful, here, salvage is an award for repayment of services.

Salvage law applies only to maritime property (ship/vessel, apparel, cargo or wreckage). A vessel is defined as “any ship or boat, or any other description of vessel used in navigation” and “ship includes every description of vessel used in navigation not propelled by oars”