The Law of the Sea

maritime law

The law of the sea is a highly complex and diverse area of the law. It deals with shipping accidents, oil spills, injured seamen or passengers and much more. This unique body of laws are adjudicated in maritime courts around the world. These courts may deal with admiralty cases, maritime claims, maritime torts, admiralty liens and mortgages, marine insurance issues, towage contracts and maritime contract disputes. The complexity of the law and its diversity requires experienced legal guidance.

The development of maritime law began with the Renaissance and the early seventeenth century debates between Hugo Grotius, who advocated a basis in natural law for freedom of the seas and John Selden, an English academic who advocated sovereign rights over specific areas of the oceans. The debates were further accelerated by the rise of nationalism in continental Europe with the adoption of Maritime Codes and Marine Ordinances of various European countries, including Denmark (1667), Sweden (1651) and France (1641).

Congress exercises original jurisdiction over admiralty matters under Article III, Section 2 of the United States Constitution and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction. However, the vast majority of admiralty matters are brought in federal court and not state courts. For example, the law of the sea is applicable where a seaman is injured while in the service of his employer irrespective of whether that injury occurs on navigable waters or off shore. However, a claim for personal injuries due to negligence on a ship must generally be brought in state court.

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