In maritime law, salvage rewards exist to incentivize the rescue of people, vessels, and cargo. When a salvor rescues a vessel, they have the right to seek compensation for their efforts in many cases. You may, however, need to hire a maritime lawyer and pursue a formal claim or even a lawsuit to obtain the compensation.
Before you seek a salvage reward, you should understand the larger legal framework. The following four factors will affect whether you can expect a salvage reward and how much might be involved.
Generally, anyone with an existing contractual relationship has no claim to a salvage reward. You can, however, enter a salvage contract. However, other parties with better salvage claims might get the first crack at the job. For example, a business that's physically closer to a ship in distress can simply assert its right to conduct salvage as long as it has the resources available immediately.
The entire point of salvage rewards in maritime law is to improve the odds of rescue for anyone in distress. Ideally, third parties will volunteer based on the incentive. Notably, as good Samaritans, the law limits their liability. Consequently, they can make every reasonable effort to conduct the rescue and obtain the salvage reward.
Bear in mind the voluntary service component is critical. First responders, Navy and Coast Guard crews, and other professionals have no right to salvage rewards. They are just supposed to do their jobs.
Success is necessary for a salvage reward to be valid. Attempting a rescue and failing wins you nothing. Notably, you must be able to rescue the vessel, its cargo, or both. Simply recovering the crew is the duty of every able person on the sea.
When a maritime lawyer files on behalf of a client who's seeking salvage reward, the claim or suit must seek reasonable compensation. The law varies on what's reasonable. If the rescue was easy based on the weather conditions, a court will likely lower the reward. A successful rescue that prevents a worse disaster, such as a chemical spill, likely yields better compensation. Other factors include the overall expense of the rescue, the cargo's value, and damages to the vessel or the cargo.
Your contribution to the rescue also matters. If the vessel's crew largely had the situation under control, then the reward will drop. Conversely, if the crew lost total control of the situation and your team saved the vessel and the cargo, the compensation will be significantly better. Make sure to document all of your contributions to the rescue. Speak to a maritime lawyer to learn more about your options.