Today, commercial vessels operating in the Gulf Region typically incur maritime liens, which arise from a wide range of property claims that can be raised directly against a vessel. Because enforcing a maritime lien is complicated, and given the challenges of preventing the seizure of a vessel, the best way to protect your rights is to consult an experienced admiralty and maritime law attorney.
At Koch & Schmidt, we are well-versed in the legal claims that give rise to maritime liens. We provide advice and guidance to clients who are seeking to enforce maritime liens and also work to protect the rights of vessel owners. Our admiralty and maritime lawyers regularly represent a wide range of maritime professionals in Louisiana and the Texas Gulf Region, including:
- Commercial boat owners, charterers and operators
- Cruise ship operators
- Commercial fishing boat owners and operators
- Marine contractors
- Parts suppliers
- Fuel Suppliers
- Tow operators
- Injured seamen and other maritime workers
When you become our client, we will provide you with informed representation and work strategically to protect your interests.
New Orleans Maritime Lien Law Attorneys
If you are involved in a maritime lien dispute, it is crucial to work with the right attorney, one who is well-versed in admiralty and maritime law. In particular, maritime lien laws differ from lien laws that apply to land-based assets in a number of ways, not the least of which is that maritime liens are enforceable directly against the vessel. The vessel is considered to be a “person” separate and apart from the owner or operator and can be held liable for a maritime lien. Therefore, the lien holder may file a suit in rem against the vessel seeking its arrest and sale to satisfy the claim.
In addition, maritime liens need not be recorded or registered to be perfected; they come into existence once a service has been rendered. As an example, a fuel supplier that provides fuel to a vessel retains a lien against vessel until the supplier is paid for the fuel. At Koch & Schmidt, we understand these and other nuances of maritime liens, are up-to-date on the most recent, relevant federal court rulings concerning maritime liens, and have a proven history of helping our clients successfully resolve marital lien disputes.
What types of claims give rise to a maritime lien?
Maritime liens can arise from a wide range of claims including:
- Contractual claims (e.g. preferred ship mortgages, crew wages, vessel repair and salvage)
- Property damage
- Collisions and alissions
- Personal injury claims
Generally, however, most maritime liens arise from the provision of “necessaries,” which are things that an owner should provide to enable a vessel to perform its mission (e.g. repairs, supplies, towage, and dockage). Moreover, the courts have broadly interpreted the definition of “necessaries” to include any good or service needed for the venture in which the vessel is engaged.
Given the array of goods and services that may attach to a vessel as a maritime lien, it is crucial for vessel owners and lien holders to understand their rights. At Koch & Schmidt, we believe that an educated client is our best client, which is why will take the time to explain marital lien law in understandable terms. Above all, we will provide you with trustworthy advice and objective insights and help you navigate the legal process.
What property is subject to a maritime lien?
A maritime lien may attach to all types of property, including a vessel, a vessel’s electronics, furniture, boats, fishing gear, machinery, equipment, spare parts, fuel, cargo, and certain types of fishing rights and permits. A maritime lien attaches to a vessel or item at the time the goods or services are provided. The lien remains attached until it is paid by the vessel owner or the property is auctioned by the US Marshal.
This means that the lien will continue to follow the vessel even if it is sold by the owner, and the vessel remains subject to arrest and sale to satisfy the prior liens. Because maritime liens are often unrecorded, the subsequent owner may be on the hook for an existing maritime lien. Regardless of whether or not you are selling your vessel, it is crucial to work with a maritime attorney to resolve a maritime lien so that your property rights and livelihood are protected.
Enforcement of Maritime Liens
The best way to enforce a maritime lien is to consult an experienced maritime lawyer who can file an in rem action against the vessel in federal court. The court will issue an arrest warrant, the US Marshal will then serve the warrant on the owner and seize the vessel. It is important to note that the lien holder will be required to pay the US Marshal a significant advance deposit to cover the cost of arresting and keeping a vessel in custody.
After the vessel it is arrested, the owner must file a claim of ownership. If the vessel owner fails to do so, the vessel will be sold to satisfy the lien(s). To secure release of the vessel, the owner must post security in amount set by the court — typically the amount of the lien, plus interest and costs. The security can be in the form of a bond, cash, or letter of guarantee.
The maritime lawyers at Koch and Schmidt provide clients with innovative, cost-effective strategies to resolve maritime lien disputes and leverage their negotiating and trial skills to achieve fair and equitable outcomes for all parties.
Priority of Maritime Liens
Multiple parties can have a maritime lien against the same vessel. If it is sold for less than the amount of all the liens (which is often the case), the court will follow maritime law to determine the distribution of the sale proceeds among the lienholders. First, expenses incurred by the U.S. Marshal, though not treated as a lien, are given top priority. Thereafter, the priority of maritime liens is as follows:
- Lines for seamen’s wages and maintenance and cure
- Salvage and general average liens
- Tort liens (e.g. personal injury, wrongful death, property damage)
- Preferred ship mortgage liens
- Liens for necessaries
- State-created liens of a maritime nature
- Liens for penalties and forfeitures under federal law
- Preferred non-maritime liens (including tax liens)
- Attachment liens
- Maritime liens in bankruptcy
It is noteworthy that preferred ship mortgage liens fall behind certain other marital liens in terms of priority. In any event, the court-ordered sale of a vessel by the US Marshal extinguishes all liens that are not satisfied from the sale proceeds.
Contact our Experienced Gulf of Mexico Maritime Lien Attorneys
At Koch & Schmidt, we provide informed representation to lien holders and vessel owners involved in maritime lien disputes. Given the costs associated with the arrest and sale of vessels for lienholders and vessel owners alike, we believe it is in the best interests of both parties to reach an agreement before court action becomes necessary.
Our maritime lawyers have the sharp negotiating skills needed to achieve this objective; however, we are fully prepared to litigate any marital lien claim. When you consult Koch & Schmidt, you will have confidence, knowing that our dedicated advocates are in your corner, fighting to protect your rights. Please contact our office today for a free evaluation of your case.