Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Derelict Definition:

Property that has been abandoned; especially in maritime law: a ship that is floundering or in peril and which the crew has been abandoned without hope for recovery or with no intention of saving the ship or of returning thereto.

Related Terms: Salvage, Wreck, Abandon, Abandonment

From time to time, judges will use the term to describe a person who abandons his duties, as in derelict in a duty or dereliction of duty.

The term is also used in reference to real property as in England's Derelict Land Act of 1982 which defines derelict land as "neglected or unsightly".

In maritime law, the oft-cited case on derelicts is The Aquila in which Mr. Justice W. Scott wrote:

"... it is by no means necessary to constitute derelict, that no owner should afterwards appear. It is sufficient if there has been an abandonment at sea by the master and crew, without hope of recovery.

"I say without hope of recovery, because a mere quitting of the ship for the purpose of procuring assistance from shore, or with an intention of returning to her again, is not an abandonment."

Halsbury's Laws of England, 4th Reissue (1997), volume 43(1), "Shipping and Navigation" adds:

"Whenever the question arises whether a vessel is derelict or not, the test to be applied is the intention and expectation of the master and crew at the time of quitting her, in all the circumstances of the case."

For the purposes of maritime law and with the attendant consequences as to insurance (constructive total loss) and salvage, a derelict ship is considered a form of wreckage; a wreck.


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