Maritime law, or admiralty law, encompasses shipping and navigation on international waters as well as natural and man-made navigable rivers and canals. It covers a wide range of matters including the development of legislation, both nationally and internationally; trade agreements; customs and excise regulations; employment issues usually relating to the crew; ship insurance claims; property damage; personal injuries; wreck and salvage; and piracy.
One of the primary challenges in maritime law is determining how to bring the rule of law to the high seas. In the past this was accomplished through the ship registration (or “flagging”) system, whereby laws and the coercive powers of government travelled with ships – and their crews – between ports.
Today, the international regime of the law of the sea aims to avoid creating a central enforcement body, and instead allows for the creation of more specific conventions and the evolving customs of States in their application. This makes the legal landscape for international shipping more complex and nuanced than ever.
For example, under the Jones Act, seamen who are injured on the job are entitled to compensation from their employers. This includes maintenance and cure – funds for the cost of food, shelter, medical care and other necessities while they recover from their injuries – as well as punitive damages in some cases. The law of the sea also requires that companies and ship owners provide a safe working environment for their employees.