What is Maritime Law?

Also known as Admiralty Law, the nature of Maritime Law is private in nature. Its public law counterpart is known as the Law of the Sea.

The bulk of Maritime Law handles the process of carrying goods through sea, rules concerning protection and maintenance of ships at sea, registration and damage to ships, marine insurance etc.

Some of the major topics that any course on Maritime Law, therefore, covers are – contract of carriage (bill of lading, charter party agreement); incidents of navigation (collision, salvage/towage); marine insurance (marine policy, insurable interest, indemnity); marine pollution (liability claims, public law regime, environment protection and natural resource conservation) etc.

The Law of the Sea, on the other hand, lays down general principles related to maritime zones, rules of mining, exploitation of natural resources, dispute settlement (boundary dispute, dispute related to resource allocation/ exploitation), piracy, jurisdictional claims, issues in hot-pursuit etc.

International Maritime Organization (IMO)

The International Maritime Organization is an international organization mandated to regulate and govern maritime affairs at global level. Its main task is to facilitate international agreements on issues of relevance, regulate maritime affairs and provide the technical expertise on important subject areas. The official website of IMO provides the following information about the scope of its function:

Most conventions adopted under the auspices of IMO or for which the Organization is otherwise responsible, fall into three main categories. The first group is concerned with maritime safety; the second with the prevention of marine pollution; and the third with liability and compensation, especially in relation to damage caused by pollution. Outside these major groupings are several other conventions dealing with facilitation, tonnage measurement, unlawful acts against shipping and salvage, etc.

  • Maritime lawyers have licensed lawyers whose primary focus is on legislation pertaining to any maritime activity. In cases related to seas, oceans, and other open water bodies they represent clients or businesses. Today, maritime law as one of the oldest branches of law covers a wide range of issues, from injuries and working conditions at sea to shipping and commerce.
  • A Maritime Lawyer works like any other lawyer – drafting commercial, insurance and/or indemnity contracts; handling individual lawsuits involving contractual and/or tortious claims; representing governmental and/or corporate agencies in before judicial or executive authorities; negotiating dispute settlement clauses/processes; reviewing already existing agreements etc.
  • The work scope engages a diversity of areas – tortious liability (oil-spill and damage to marine life, acts of nuisance and/or personal misbehaviour); contractual claims (damage to goods, non/ill-performance of contracts); and insurance claims (marine insurance, indemnity). There may also be some overlaps with public law issues – security claims (public law concern) (unwarranted movement within territorial zones, acts threatening state security); criminal law (public law concern) (issues of piracy on high seas, jurisdictional claims for criminal acts in territorial zones) etc.
  • They can range from injuries and working conditions at sea, cargo, shipping and trade, any kind of illegal activity occurring at sea and cover both business and pleasure. This makes a maritime career not only exciting but also challenging. Maritime law not only differs from onshore laws, but these cases will fall under the line of the respective country depending on the flags that the ships are flying.
  • One day, you can find yourself arguing in court, another day writing papers and the next week, negotiating settlements and addressing concerns about accidents or illnesses caused by seafaring boats, and on another day, you are investigating allegations about a corporation dumping hazardous waste into the waters near where they live.
  • Marine lawyers may also advise parties to litigation surrounding the capture or release of a marine vessel, collecting fees or receiving compensation from vessel owners in the event of an incident, collision or sinking. In addition, maritime lawyers need to examine a variety of issues such as the assessment of ferry liability or the environmental case of exploitation.


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