What Salvors Do

Marine Salvage Attorney, Florida

In 1982 the U.S. Coast Guard was told by Congress to reevaluate its policies regarding providing towing and salvage services to distressed vessels. The USCG thereafter decided to back away from providing towing and marine salvage services where a private towing and salvage company was available to complete the task.  When the USCG decided to back away from providing towing and salvage services most experts agree that this was the birth—in force—of the private maritime towing and salvage industry. Today there are private towing services in Tampa Bay, Clearwater, Ft. Myers, Naples, Miami, and the Florida Keys, etc., with US Coast Guard licensed captains running powerful and fast boat to come to your aid in time of crisis. In fact in some ports the towing/salvage companies compete to see who can get to you first. (Don’t we wish every service we ordered competed to get our business?) Today, in most cases, the fact is, the U.S. Coast Guard is not coming to get you and your vessel. They will defer to one of these private towing/salvage companies. Some of the reasons for this are as follows:

  1. The Towing/Salvage companies get to you faster than the Coast Guard.
  2. The U.S. Coast Guard has worked with the Towing/Salvage company before your emergency.
  3. The U.S. Coast Guard may not have any available assets to use on your emergency.
  4. If the U.S. Coast Guard determines the conditions are not safe for their personnel, they won’t send them to help you.
  5. The U.S. Coast Guard knows the Tower/Salvor will keep them informed.
  6. The U.S. Coast Guard also has the task of border security, drug interdiction, and immigration duties.
  7. The U.S. Coast guard does not want to be in the Towing/Marine Salvage business.

It Is a Good Thing

At first it may seem like this is a bad idea to have the Coast Guard not be involved in towing and marine salvage situations. But if we ask–“Is it better to have more ambulances and firetrucks or fewer?”—most people would say in their neighborhood they would want to see more ambulances and firetrucks, not fewer.  When the Coast Guard got out of the marine towing and salvage business, many private companies jumped in to fill the void.

The fact is, there are more marine salvors now than in 1982—when the U.S. Coast Guard decided to get out of the business–and this provides many additional boats and trained personnel ready to help you and your vessel in case it begins sinking, catches fire, or capsizes, etc.  Many people do not recognize that the U.S. Coast Guard is not in every port in the State of Florida. Conversely, the major towing companies do generally have a presence in every port in Florida. If your vessel is sinking, is struck by another vessel, or has caught fire, and the nearest Coast Guard vessel is 50 miles away, you want the local maritime salvage company to be able to respond very quickly. When you call out for a MayDay! and there is no Coast Guard asset to help you, you want the maritime salvor who is based nearby to help you in your time of emergency.

It Is Good Public Policy

When a salvor saves a vessel from sinking or from total loss there are three parties who benefit from that casualty. First, the insurance company which insured the vessel benefits because it does not have to pay for a total loss of the vessel. Second, the salvor benefits and is rewarded based upon his efforts. Third, the owner benefits because the vessel usually does not become a total loss, and the owner has done what every marine insurance policy says you must do: “take all reasonable action to prevent further damage or total loss of the vessel”.  So, in the event of the mythical $10 million Hatteras vessel which is sinking 20 miles offshore, the salvor is rewarded for helping save the vessel from sinking, the insurance company is better off because it does not have to pay out a total loss of $10 million, and the owner also benefits because the owner does not lose the vessel.

Having the private maritime towing and salvage services ready to assist in a moment’s notice is also good for another reason. Do we want our tax dollars being spent by the U.S. Coast Guard performing towing of recreational vessels, or do we want this to be a private, non-governmental function? Most people would agree that we need to make the government spend less money, not more. Where an insurance company for the saved vessel is responsible for the towing or salvage charges, it is a better public policy to place the cost of those services on private insurance—not on the federal government.

Maritime Salvors Save Lives

In addition to providing emergency towing and marine salvage services, marine salvors also save lives. Yes, that is correct, maritime salvors save lives. It is for the reasons mentioned above that many times the marine salvors are the local boats and licensed captains nearest to the MayDay! situation. In some of those MayDay situations lives are at risk, and many times the MayDay is called during dangerous weather. They are able to provide life-saving services because they keep their vessels in the water, their equipment ready to go, they keep personnel ready to go, and they maintain contact with the VHF radio pretty much 24 hours a day.

There Are Safeguards From Over-Reaching

  1. Most people involved in a marine salvage situation have insurance on their vessel. The insurer can, and does, fight unreasonable charges. The insurance company does not just roll over and pay an unjustified payment to a marine salvor. Here’s an inside track: Insurance companies tend not to pay more than they think is reasonable for any
  2. Cases involving over-reaching or fraud can be fought in a civil court. Most of these civil cases are brought in federal court, and federal judges tend not to tolerate over-reaching conduct to put it mildly.
  3. The amount of a salvage recovery is based upon several factors which judges use to establish general guidelines on how much a marine salvor should be paid in any given case. (See The Blackwall, 77 U.S. 1 1869)(Some of those factors have to do with the level of peril faced by the vessel, the risk to the salvor, the response time of the salvor, etc.)
  4. The salvor still has to prove his case in court to recover if the owner or insurer contests the salvage, and in cases of fraud or over-reaching the judge can rule there is no recovery.

***None of the foregoing is legal advice and is not meant to give legal advice. Each case is different. This is why it is important to contact us on the specific facts of your case. What you say in making the claim can greatly affect your outcome.