By Caitlin Morgenstern of Koch & Schmidt posted in Maritime Law on Tuesday, November 29, 2016.
In Girard v. M/V Blacksheep, Arnaud Girard was a marine salvor who worked to rescue ships in peril. In December 2013, he undertook a rescue mission for a yacht known as the M/Y Blacksheep. Thereafter he filed an action in rem against the Blacksheep, seeking a salvage award for services provided to the yacht. The district court denied his claim, finding that Mr. Girard failed to show that his services were necessary to the rescue of the Blacksheep. Mr. Girard appealed.
A salvage award is “the compensation allowed to persons by whose voluntary assistance a ship at sea or her cargo or both have been saved in whole or in part from impending sea peril. The Eleventh Circuit noted that in Klein v. Unidentified Wrecked & Abandoned Sailing Vessel, 758 F.2d 1511 (11th Cir. 1985), the Eleventh Circuit stated that in order to obtain a salvage award, the salvor must prove three elements: (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 the assistance; and (3) Success in saving, or in helping to save at least part of the property at risk. The first prong of Klein’s three-prong test requires two distinct showings: first, that the vessel was in “maritime peril” (or “marine peril”) and, second, that the vessel “could not have been rescued without the salvor’s assistance.” Applying the factors in Klein, the District Court found that Mr. Girard failed to show that the vessel could not have been rescued without his assistance.
Mr. Girard argued that the second showing required under the first prong of Klein-that the ship “could not have been rescued without the salvor’s assistance”-is not a proper element of a salvage award claim. Instead a plaintiff need only establish a “marine peril.” The Court noted, however, that the Eleventh Circuit stated that elements of a salvage award claim were articulated by the Supreme Court in The Sabine, 101 U.S. 384, 384 (1879). In The Sabine, the Supreme Court held that “[t]hree elements are necessary to a valid salvage claim: (1) A marine peril; (2) Service voluntarily rendered when not required as an existing duty or from a special contract; and (3) Success in whole or in part, or that the service rendered contributed to such success.” As a result, Supreme Court precedent does not require a plaintiff to show that the vessel could not have been rescued without the salvor’s assistance to satisfy the first prong. Rather, all a plaintiff must show to establish the first element is that the ship was under a “marine peril.” The Court also noted that Klein’s “necessity” requirement in the first prong also undercuts the policy interests that the salvage award is intended to further.
Because the added requirement in the first prong of the Klein test was inconsistent with both Supreme Court and binding circuit precedent, the Eleventh Circuit found it did not control. As Mr. Girard demonstrated the Blacksheep was in “marine peril,” the court held that he had established the first element of a salvor’s claim.