Lloyd's Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly

Legal and practical aspects of salvage in the United States

Martin Davies *

Salvage in the United States is a characteristically American mix of big government and small private enterprise, with little room for the traditional Lloyd’s Open Form commercial salvage found elsewhere in the world. This article gives an overview of salvage operations in the US and their legal context, including a short description of the legal issues raised by the active treasure salvage industry. Although the US is party to the Salvage Convention 1989, it plays a surprisingly small part in salvage disputes in that country, for reasons explained in the article.


Traditional “no cure, no pay” salvage of marine property in peril is in slow but steady decline throughout the world. There were 255 Lloyd’s Open Form (LOF) salvage cases in 1980 but only 107 in 2007.1 Professional salvors have begun to focus on pollution prevention, which forms an increasingly large proportion of their work.2 In 2007, the International Salvage Union (ISU) requested its Subcommittee on Environmental Salvage to form a Working Group to draft a new edition of LOF focusing on environmental salvage awards and it called on the Comité Maritime International (CMI) to begin drafting a revised Salvage Convention with particular emphasis on provisions concerned with environmental salvage.3
To some extent, the changing role of professional salvors reflects an increase in the involvement of government bodies in salvage operations, particularly in cases where there is a threat of environmental pollution. That trend is already far advanced in the United States, where the US Coast Guard plays the principal role in handling vessel casualties that involve actual or threatened pollution, with professional salvors often relegated to a



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