Maritime law and the law of the sea have almost nothing to do with another, despite the proximity that their names imply. Maritime law is domestic, whereas the law of the sea is international. United States Maritime law deals with injuries and property damage that occurs as a result of the activities of corporations and individuals in navigable waters. The Law of the Sea, on the other hand, is a body of laws, customs, and international agreements that apply to all nations.
This means that if you are an injured sailor, longshoreman, or oil rig worker, maritime law will be relevant to your case as you seek compensation from your employer. At the Krist Law Firm P.C., our Houston maritime injury lawyers have built our reputation on our ability to get our clients the compensation they deserve after an accident–even when their employer’s insurance company and lawyers stand in the way.
What Is the Law of the Sea?
The law of the sea governs how nations interact with one another in maritime matters. These rules and principles were developed over centuries until being codified in the 1994 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or “UNCLOS.” The United States did not ratify the convention, although it recognizes UNCLOS as a part of customary international law and generally follows its rules.
Specifically, the law of the sea deals with the following matters:
- Jurisdiction over Coastal Waters–For centuries, each country’s territory extended three nautical miles into the sea. But beginning in the twentieth century, many countries extended their territorial waters to 12 nautical miles beyond the low water line, also known as the baseline. UNCLOS sets territorial waters at 12 nautical miles, and puts in place a contiguous zone out to 24 nautical miles, in which nations can still enforce their laws concerning customs, taxation, immigration, and pollution.
- Ownership of Natural Resources–Each country can claim an Exclusive Economic Zone up to 200 nautical miles from the baseline, or 350 nautical miles should the continental shelf extend that far. Within its EEZ, each nation is entitled to the exclusive exploitation of fisheries, mineral resources, and other seafloor deposits such as oil and gas.
- Navigational Rights–Vessels from other nations–even military ones–have the right to pass through territorial waters but only to the extent necessary to reach their destination. Under the doctrine of “innocent passage,” foreign vessels must not break any laws or otherwise harm the nation to whom the territorial waters belong.
Beyond these limits, the venerable principle of mare liberum applies: the seas are free to all nations, but belong to none of them.
What Is Maritime Law?
In contrast to the law of the sea, which applies to public entities, maritime law applies to private entities such as ship-owners, their clients, and their employees. Like the law of the sea, maritime law slowly developed out of various sets of customs and rules–some of which date back millennia. Today in the United States, much of the traditional principles of maritime law has been codified into the following statutes:
- The Merchant Marine Act of 1928–More commonly known as the Jones Act, this law gives injured seamen the right to sue negligent ship-owners for their injuries. The act also mandates that American ships with American crews transport passengers and goods between American ports.
- The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)—When workers die on the high seas (more than 3 nautical miles from shore), their relatives can sue their employer for funeral expenses, lost financial support, and the care and emotional support the deceased can no longer provide.
- The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)–This legislation gives a right to sue to non-sailors engaged in maritime industry.
- The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)–Under this act, injured oil rig workers and other non-sailor professionals who work in the United States EEZ can get compensated if they are injured on the job.
Maritime law in the United States is complex and distinct from other kinds of personal injury law, which are governed by state law. If you or a family member has been injured in the performance of maritime trade, you should consult with a Houston maritime lawyer about the best way to seek recovery. At The Krist Law Firm P.C., we are always available to take on new cases, and we do not charge our clients until they receive compensation for their injuries.
Call us today at (281) 283-8500 for a free consultation.