Admiralty Law and Its Effect on Offshore Development
- Ed. Bluestein Jr. (Freeman Bates and Jaworski) | Crooker Fulbright (Freeman Bates and Jaworski)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- March 1971
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 276 - 282
- 1971. Society of Petroleum Engineers
- 1.6 Drilling Operations, 1.10 Drilling Equipment, 4.5 Offshore Facilities and Subsea Systems, 4.2 Pipelines, Flowlines and Risers, 5.1.2 Faults and Fracture Characterisation
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Technological developments bring an increasing number of skills and sciences, men and material, to the sea. Those who come there with little previous maritime experience must recognize that the sea has its own legal rules, just as it has its own technological problems.
Wherever man has left the land and put to sea, he has established special rules or laws to govern his conduct in this nonterrestrial environment. These special rules we know as the law of admiralty, or maritime law. The tiny Island of Rhodes, in the Mediterranean, is the site of man's earliest formal maritime code of law, said to be dated nearly 3,000 years ago.
Because the disputes of seafaring men seem so different from those of their landlocked brothers, the practice of using special admiralty courts still exists practice of using special admiralty courts still exists throughout the world. In 1966, the Federal courts in the U. S. merged their civil and admiralty courts, but retained a set of "Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims".
There exists in the U. S. a large body of statutory and general maritime law that governs our people at sea throughout the world and governs others who come into our waters. This paper is directed primarily to those whose ventures now carry them to sea. but who previously have had little or no contact with the law of admiralty. The technology that petroleum engineers are introducing into the sea is new. But the "things" involved with that technology men, vessels and their cargo are "things" that have been regulated by admiralty courts for centuries. The petroleum engineer should know, at least in a general way, what effect admiralty law can have on his enterprises.
A word of caution is in order. Admiralty law is complex, and its concepts change, sometimes with astounding speed. General principles have numerous exceptions. It has been suggested that technologists approach maritime legal problems "as new and unfamiliar ground and perhaps even a hostile environment".
Vessels and the Admiralty Jurisdiction
The principal character on the admiralty scene is the vessel. The vessel's status in admiralty is elevated to almost the level of a real being. For example, a suit may be brought against a vessel, quite apart from a suit against her rightful owner, who may be unknown, unavailable, or insolvent. The suit against a vessel is called an in rem proceeding and the suit papers might read. for example, John Doe v. The SS Queen Mary,, Her Engines, Tackle, Etc.
Old concepts of what constitutes a "vessel" must be revised. Today virtually any object or structure capable of transporting any type of goods, equipment, or personnel on water would be held to be a vessel by the courts. The submersible drilling rig, for example, is a "vessel". and men assigned to regular, work on it are "seamen". On the other hand a fixed platform is not a vessel and its crew are not seamen, platform is not a vessel and its crew are not seamen, unless they are crew members of a floating tender.
All vessels, regardless of size, shape, character or mission, will be governed and regulated by admiralty law principles and statutes. More will be said later on the nature of the regulations. At this point, just remember that if it will float, it probably is a vessel.
If some day a U. S. Marshal comes to your crewboat at the dock, goes aboard and attaches a piece of paper on the wheelhouse window, your boat has probably just been arrested or "seized" and taken into legal custody.
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