What Is Maritime Law?

In its vast scope, maritime law encapsulates many areas that affect the everyday lives of sailors and people who work on or around ships. This includes not only commercial shipping, but also recreational trips such as fishing or cruising, and the employees who serve them, including dock workers, seamen, stevedores, longshoremen, etc. Maritime law also deals with issues that occur when there is a collision or wreck involving either cargo or a ship full of passengers.

Its roots stretch back to the ancient Egyptian and Phoenicians, who engaged in considerable shipping and were responsible for developing a legal system to resolve issues. Later, Rhodian sea law became influential throughout the Mediterranean. It is also credited for the development of the first admiralty courts in Europe, which evolved into the modern system of admiralty laws and rules that govern international and domestic marine matters.

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the need to understand and apply maritime law expands. This includes not only protecting the environment, but facilitating commerce and travel. In some cases, it may even include the protection of human rights and civil liberties.

The United States Constitution provides Congress with the power to regulate admiralty, and federal courts have original jurisdiction in cases arising under those laws. This authority derives from Article III, SS 2. Moreover, the Court has held that judicially originated rules derived from this power are “laws of the United States to the same extent as those enacted by Congress.” This is a fundamental rule of admiralty.

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