Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Maritime Lien Definition:

A lien which attaches to a ship and its cargo.

In Neville Canneries Ltd. v. The Santa Maria, the United States Supreme Court used these words:

"... a maritime lien.... this the vessel carries with it into whosoever hands it may come."

A maritime lien is a substantive right in the property, derived from the general maritime law.

In regards to those jurisdictions that have adopted it, the International Convention on Maritime Liens and Mortgages 1993 states that a maritime lien applies in regards to claims:

  • "For wages and other sums due to the master, officers and other members of the vessel's complement in respect of their employment on the vessel, including costs of repatriation and social insurance contributions payable on their behalf;
  • In respect of loss of life or personal injury occurring, whether on land or on water, in direct connection with the operation of the vessel;
  • For reward for the salvage of the vessel;
  • For port, canal and other waterway dues and pilotage dues;
  • Based on tort arising out of physical loss or damage caused by the operation of the vessel other than loss of or damage (and)
  • to cargo, containers and passengers' effects carried on the vessel."

A maritime lien arises without notice, registration or other formalities, at the time the services are rendered or the damages are done. For that reason, they are sometimes referred to as secret liens.

A maritime lien travels with the property, and encumbers the title of subsequent owners or possessors and survives the conventional sale of the vessel – it can only be discharged by consent of the holder or a court ordered sale.

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