Maritime law is a set of rules and conventions that govern private marine and shipping matters. It is based on international public laws, conventions, treaties and customs and safeguards the interests of both individuals and organizations involved in the sea.
A broad range of claims are heard under maritime law, including cargo damage, ship collisions, oil spills, injury to seamen and passengers, and a host of other issues. Often, these cases involve complex legal issues that require the guidance of an experienced maritime law attorney.
Generally, maritime claims are brought before federal and state courts simultaneously. However, there are some maritime claims that are only heard in federal court. These include actions to enforce mortgages or liens on ships, suits seeking to partition ownership of a ship and petitions to limit a ship owner’s liability after a major accident.
In addition to these, some other types of maritime cases are also only heard in federal court. These include proceedings under the Limitation of Liability Act, by which a vessel owner seeks to limit his or her liability to a group of claimants.
The United States is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and has the power to enforce these international laws on foreign vessels in the high seas. This power stems from 18 U.S.C. SS 7(1), which grants Federal jurisdiction to the courts of the United States in criminal cases committed on American vessels in the territorial waters or harbors of other countries.