FREE CONSULTATION • CALL US 24 / 7 212-994-7777

Admiralty and Maritime Law

What is Admiralty and Maritime Law?

Admiralty and Maritime law encompasses the rules and procedures governing navigation and commerce by water. Although the majority of admiralty and maritime law issues involve international trade on the high seas, seaman's injuries are also a prevalent issue.

Admiralty laws are typically determined by the law of the ship's flag (known as the “flag state”). The flag state has regulatory and enforcement authority over the ship, and, as such, the ship is subject to the laws and regulations of that nation (for example, inspection, labor, safety and taxation laws). Additionally, if the ship is involved in an admiralty case, the flag state's laws are applicable to the matter in dispute.

Sailors and injuries at sea are specifically addressed under the Jones Act, and an admiralty lawyer would be able to ensure requirements of fair process for injured sailors are met.

Admiralty lawyers can also assist with recreational boating issues as well as the increasing environmental issues surrounding wharves, piers and other aspects of cargo or boat relates seaworthiness or impacts.

Common Questions Concerning Admiralty and Maritime Law

What is a Bill of Lading?
The bulk of maritime commercial activity involves the carriage or transport of goods internationally. The most important document used in this type of transaction is a bill of lading. A bill of lading is basically a multiparty contract of carriage or transportation between the carrier (ship owner), seller of the goods, and the purchaser.

What Happens if My Goods are Lost or Damaged at Sea?
The basic statute regulating compensation for lost or damaged goods in maritime situations is the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (COGSA)COGSA requires ship owners to:

  • Make their vessels seaworthy
  • Properly equip, supply and man their vessels
  • Make the holds, cooling compartments, and all other areas where the goods are to be stored fit and safe for their reception, preservation, and carriage.

If a ship owner fails in any of the above, they may be liable for the damaged or lost goods. COGSA only applies to cases of international shipment.

When is a vessel "Seaworthy"?

In order for a vessel to be deemed "seaworthy," it must:

  • Supply at all times, proper equipment and safety gear to seamen
  • Provide a safe environment for seaman to work and reside in
  • Adhere to all safety requirements for operating vessels

What is Unseaworthiness?

Unseaworthiness describes a vessel or any of its parts or machinery that is not reasonably fit for its intended use. Unseaworthiness can also describe the vessel's crew if they are not reasonably competent or skilled to perform the assigned work. Under the Jones Act, a vessel owner has a duty to provide and maintain a seaworthy vessel.

Who May File Unseaworthiness Claim?

Seamen, or their families, typically file unseaworthiness claims against the vessel's owner, who may also be their employer. Passengers may not hold a chartered vessel liable under the seaworthiness doctrine, but may bring a claim against the vessel's owner in a negligence suit based on the unseaworthiness of the vessel.

In cases of death on the high seas because of an unseaworthy vessel, a family member may initiate a claim under the Death on the High Seas Act. Under this Act, a family may recover damages in the form of lost services.

How Do I File an Unseaworthiness Claim?

To establish an unseaworthiness claim, four elements must be satisfied:

  • The unseaworthiness doctrine pertains to the plaintiff
  • An injury was caused by the vessel's machinery, crew or other part
  • The crew, machinery, or vessel were not fit for their intended purpose
  • The unseaworthiness condition was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries

A vessel owner or defendant may decrease his liability by showing that the plaintiff's own negligent behavior or act was a factor in causing the injuries he incurred.

 What Does International Law have to do with Maritime Law?
Admiralty and Maritime law is heavily intertwined with International Law. Determining what law applies to a dispute over the high seas can be a complicated matter. Most often, determining which admiralty laws apply depends on the flag the ship displays. For instance, a ship flying the French flag in American waters is subject to French Admiralty Law.

At Prime Law Firm, we offer a comprehensive range of maritime-related services to our clients who are located all over the world. We provide advice on a broad spectrum of maritime and business transactions, litigation, and arbitration. Our team of attorneys represents domestic and international interests in virtually all areas of maritime law.


We are seasoned in handling all vessel-related matters for ship owners, operators, charterers and their P&I Clubs, including but not limited to collisions, groundings, personal injury, cargo, salvage, tug and tow, general average, charter parties, pollution, Coast Guard proceedings, crew issues, vessel arrests, governmental investigations, criminal prosecutions, vessel financing and documentation, and other commercial transactions.


We are experienced in representing and advising both large and small terminal operators in all aspects of their business, including tariff and contract issues, transportation, LHWCA, environmental, and cargo handling matters. We represent importers, exporters, freight forwarders and customs house brokers with their maritime related legal needs, ranging from Customs fines, duties and classification issues, to cargo damage, compliance, and transactional issues.


Our transactional experience includes all types of contracts, vessel documentation, vessel financing, vessel sale agreements, charter parties, towing contracts, terminal agreements, tariffs, salvage agreements and bills of lading.


We have extensive trial experience in federal courts on the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts, as well as in Virginia state courts. We have engaged in appellate practice in the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, Eleventh, and Federal Circuits, as well as in the U.S. Supreme Court. We have handled local and New York arbitrations, but have also represented clients in London arbitrations. We have litigated Customs matters before the Court of International Trade in New York.


We serve as General Counsel to maritime industry organizations & associations and served as admiralty counsel to local municipalities in maritime litigation involving bridges, pipelines, ferries and other state-owned maritime facilities. Our attorneys have served on the Board of Directors of the Maritime Law Association of the United States, the Southeast Admiralty Law Institute, and the Virginia Maritime Association. We are correspondents for most of the P&I Clubs in the International Group and represent the primary domestic marine underwriters. Several of our attorneys have maritime service experience and all are actively involved in international, national and local maritime organizations.

Do I Need an Attorney Specializing in Admiralty and Maritime Law?

Because of the complex nature of maritime law, it would be wise to consult with an attorney specializing in both admiralty law as well as international law. Speaking with the right admiralty and maritime lawyer will enable you to understand your rights and to preserve any possible remedies.

Call our office today at 212-994-7777 or complete the convenient online contact form to set up a consultation.