Maritime law is an area of legal practice that deals with issues and matters that are related to the ocean and the transportation of goods and cargo via sea transport. It consists of a broad range of topics that are unique to the maritime industry and that often are subject to strict and complex rules and regulations, both at the international and national level.
Unlike land-based disagreements that are handled by local civil courts and arbitration, maritime disputes are usually sent to federal courts. For example, the federal courts have jurisdiction over loan defaults and ongoing mortgage disputes involving maritime property, as well as cases involving employees who have been denied or underpaid wages. In addition, maritime law includes a variety of laws that pertain to the rights and duties of seamen and other maritime workers.
The development of maritime law started in antiquity as trade between nations was conducted through the use of ships. A need was created for a robust body that could render fair judgments regarding the safety and security of ships as they traveled from port to port. Eventually, this led to the formation of maritime conventions and the concept of a universal set of laws that apply to all ocean-based transportation.
Since the seventeenth century, when international law began to be formulated, there has been a consistent struggle between adherents of Mare clausum and those of Mare liberum. The latter was ultimately endorsed, and it is the principle of universal application that forms the basis for current maritime law.