Under the law of salvage in general maritime law, a person who recovers another person’s ship or cargo after peril or loss at sea is entitled to a reward commensurate with the value of the property saved. The essential elements of a salvage claim are: (1) A maritime peril from which the ship or other property could not have been rescued without the salvor’s assistance, (2) A voluntary act by the salvor – that is, he must be under no official or legal duty to render assistance, and (3) Success in saving, or helping to save at least part of the property at risk. Klein v. Unidentified Wrecked, etc., Vessel. Regarding the first element, a maritime peril does not exist where the “vessel has the situation under control,” however, all that is necessary is that there be a “reasonable apprehension of peril.” Fine v. Rockwood.
In Biscayne Towing & Salvage, Inc. v. M/Y Backstage, a yacht at a marina caught fire and spread to other vessels. A towboat on the scene pulled one vessel out of its slip at the request of the fire department to create a firebreak. The owner of next yacht in line, the M/Y BACKSTAGE, wanted to move his vessel but was prevented from doing so by the fire department. The vessel sustained extensive heat damage as a result.
The towing company filed a maritime salvage claim against the M/Y BACKSTAGE and its owner. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the M/Y BACKSTAGE, dismissing the complaint because “[the claimant] rendered indirect benefit to a vessel not in need of assistance.” The towing company appealed. On appeal, the U.S. 11th Circuit reversed, finding that there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether or not the M/Y BACKSTAGE “could not have been rescued without the salvor’s assistance.” The court reserved resolution of “the purely legal question whether the existence of a maritime peril has a ‘needs-assistance’ component” as the defendant asserted.
Biscayne Towing & Salvage, Inc. v. M/Y Backstage