Maritime law covers a broad range of topics, including shipping; navigation; cargo and passenger transportation; shipbuilding; and marine insurance. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is responsible for developing and updating the many existing international maritime conventions, while domestic laws and regulations govern registration, licensing, and inspection procedures; shipping contracts; and vessel ownership and operation.
Despite its largely insular nature, maritime law is an integral component of the global legal system. The success of any effort to deter or prosecute illicit activities in the world’s oceans requires a strong judicial and enforcement regime that is symbiotic with the international legal system and able to transcend political boundaries.
For example, admiralty courts generally have jurisdiction over vessels and their crews on the high seas or in navigable waters, regardless of whether they are flagged by a particular State. While this is an important limitation, it also means that incidents in which there is a general maritime commercial nexus may fall within admiralty jurisdiction, such as a collision between two pleasure boats or a fire on a cruise ship docked at a marina.
Similarly, the families of workers killed aboard ships covered by the Jones Act are eligible to file claims under maritime law for wrongful death damages. But to recover, they must prove that negligence or unseaworthiness on the part of a vessel owner or employer contributed to their loved one’s death. Passengers whose wrongful deaths occur on vessels outside of the three-mile territorial waters of the United States must also prove such negligence in order to recover damages under the Death on the High Seas Act.