Duhaime's Law Dictionary


International Convention on Salvage, 1989 Definition:

An international treaty which standardizes, for signatories, the rules related to salvage and the compensation thereof.

Replaced a 1910 version which had been issued in Brussels, known as the Assistance and Salvage Convention 1910.

The 1989 version recognizes the additional resources related to addressing, whilst salvaging, environment concerns, even providing for compensation where the vessel is ultimately lost, but, through salvage efforts, harm to the environment diminished.

As Gold writes in Maritime Law:

"The perceived problem was that the protection of the marine environment, which may have to take priority during salvage operations, would significantly alter ... basic salvage principles...."

The Convention contains a significant Good Samaritan clause;

"Every master is bound, so far as he can do so without serious danger to his vessel and persons thereon, to render assistance to any person in danger of being lost at sea."

At the same time, a significant commercial disincentive is thrown in where a salvor must chose between effort to save a ship or its passengers. To wit, Article 16:

"No remuneration is due from persons whose lives are saved...."

The salvage compensation principle is at Article 12:

"Salvage operations which have had a useful result give right to a reward.... (N)o payment is due under this Convention if the salvage operations have had no useful result"

Key components of the Convention are a definition of compensable salvage and property as follows:

"Savage operation means any act or activity undertaken to assist a vessel or any other property in danger in navigable waters or in any other waters whatsoever.

"Property means any property not permanently and intentionally attached to the shoreline and includes freight at risk."

The Convention, at Article 8, requires that the salvor exercise "due care" and "to prevent or minimize damage to the environment" while undertaking the salvage as well as, "whenever circumstances reasonably require, to seek assistance from other salvors."

The Convention has a long list of criteria for judicial determination of the salvage reward:

  • "The salved value of the vessel and other property;
  • The skill and efforts of the salvors in preventing or minimizing damage to the environment;
  • The measure of success obtained by the salvor;
  • The nature and degree of the danger;
  • The skill and efforts of the salvors in salving the vessel, other property and life;
  • The time used and expenses and losses incurred by the salvors;
  • The risk of liability and other risks run by the salvors or their equipment;
  • The promptness of the services rendered;
  • The availability and use of vessels or other equipment intended for salvage operations;
  • The state of readiness and efficiency of the salvor's equipment and the value thereof."

Like any good legal right, the Convention leaves the window open for two years only :

"Any action relating to payment under this Convention shall be time-barred if judicial or arbitral proceedings have not been instituted within a period of two years. The limitation period commences on the day on which the salvage operations are terminated."

Most maritime jurisdictions have incorporated the terms of the Convention into their domestic law. Canada, for example, provides as follows at §142 of the Canada Shipping Act 2001:

"Subject to the reservations that Canada made and that are set out in Part 2 of Schedule 3, the International Convention on Salvage, 1989, ... is approved and declared to have the force of law in Canada. In the event of an inconsistency between the Convention and this Act or the regulations, the Convention prevails to the extent of the inconsistency."

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