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From what has already been stated in this treatise upon the status, merit, and rights of owners in admiralty, where their own property has been placed at hazard, for the purpose of salving the property of others, may readily be gathered what may be the legal grounds of their claim to salvage; and under what circumstances the quantum should be augmented or diminished by the Admiralty Court, in awarding salvage or decreeing its distribution.
Judges should ever bear in mind that the policy of - the law is to stimulate and encourage others to engage readily in rendering salvage services.
It may be useful, therefore, to examine to some extent the nature of salvage as a contract, on leaving the subject of owners and their rights and privileges.
The nature of salvage, as a contract, is discussed in 1. Story, 314, 340 Pigs of Copper. In meritorious cases, it is deemed good policy to award a liberal sal
, vage recompense. It is just as well as politic, in salvage suits, to so administer the law, as to encourage others to make exertions, and render voluntarily, at the proper time, such needed salvage service as may be likely to prove useful, and contribute to the ultimate security of life and property. Admiralty courts, therefore, acting upon this policy, generally reward liberally, in order to induce persons, in a situation to become salvors, to tender and render, in time of wreck or distress, such assistance opportunely. So doing, they may not only beneficially affect commerce and the shipping interest generally, but may also efficiently contribute to the preservation of human life.
And since the enactment of the Merchant Shipping Act, in England, it has become, since 1854, the duty of
the Admiralty Court to give a corresponding reward for the salvation of life and salvage of property. The Bartley, Swab. 199, ibid. 205; The Coromandel, Lush. 81; The Eastern Monarch, ibid. 182; The Johannes, Brown. and Lush. 306 ; The Pensacola, ibid. 341; The Fusilier, 10 L. T. ( N. S.) 699.
Mere good intentions, or wishes, however expressed but not acted upon, are utterly insufficient to sustain a claim for salvage. Not only must an expressed intent or wish be acceptable and welcome; but it should be accompanied and followed up by some corresponding effort, producing a beneficial result. Thus the subsequent act may render the former expression meritorious. In plain terms, property endangered must be actually rescued from impending peril; or, if lost, must be recovered by a salvor's agency, for the owner's benefit; such agency being attended with some personal danger, voluntarily incurred. 4 Wash. C. C. 651, Brig Dodge; Newb. 421, T. P. Leathers.
And it would not be an unapt definition of salvage service to say, that it consisted in securing property from probable marine loss; or recovering it from actual present loss, from perils of the sea, for its owner, with hazard to the salvor. Olcott, 462, The John Wurtz.
There may be two sets of salvors; called first and second salvors. If, therefore, one set of salvors, while performing a salvage service, themselves fall into distress, and are relieved by another set of salvors, the first salvors do not lose their right to salvage; but the second salvors are permitted to participate with the first, according to their several merits. To require the original salvors to relinquish all claim to salvage, before the second set of salvors give the necessary assistance,
FIRST AND SECOND SALVORS
would be imposing an inadmissible condition, which in admiralty should be judicially disregarded. The Henry Ewbank, 1 Sum. 400; The E. U., 1 Spinks, 63; The Undaunted, Lush. 92; The Samuel, 4 Eng. L. & Eq. 581.
Where one set of salvors have possession of, and are striving to bring into port and save, an abandoned vessel, another set are not permitted to interfere and partake of the salvage, unless the first set of salvors appear to be unable to effect the saving without the aid of the second salvors. 1 Gilp. 60, Hand v. Elvira.
It is in consonance with the established principles of maritime law, to hold those entitled to be regarded as meritorious salvors, who begin the salvage service and are in the successful prosecution of it.
It may be stated, generally, that parties taking possession, have a right to retain it until the salvage is completed; and no other person has the right to interfere with them, provided they are able to effect the salvage, and are conducting the business with fidelity and vigor. Olcott, 77, The John Gilpin.
An indispensable ingredient of a salvage claim is that the service rendered has contributed immediately to the rescue or preservation of property in peril at
The title of salvor arises from actual possession of property in peril, with power to save it, and the actual employment of means to that end.
Notorious possession, with the avowal of the object of such possession, are cardinal requisites to the creation or maintenance of the privileges of a salvor; and where they do not exist, any other person may take the property with all the advantages of the first finder. Olcott, 462, The John Wurtz.
AND THEIR RELATIVE RIGHTS.
Such is the clear policy of the law. It rewards liberally a meritorious salvor; but it counts first in the order of his meritorious acts, a prompt use of sufficient means, both in getting at property needing relief, and abiding with it till its salvage is completed. The value of such services is enhanced, and their compensation augmented proportionally to the danger and loss to the salvor attending such exertions, and their benefit to the owner. Olcott, 462, The John Wurtz.
And while salvors are engaged as such, they are legally entitled to the sole possession of the property to be salved. If others interfere, such interference is a wrongful interruption; even if done by those who complete the salvage and bring in the salved property. 1 Dods. 417, The Blendenhall; 2 Hagg. 361, The Carlotta; Edwards, 175, The Maria ; 3 Hagg. 243, The Queen Mab; ibid. 167, The Effort.
Original salvors in possession have a qualified property in the salved property. Courts guard with jealousy these rights, and uphold them. Legal dispossession without cause is impossible. Vide also, 1 W. Rob. 410, The India; 3 Hagg. 160, The Eugene Bourne; 2 W. Rob. 306, The Glasgow Packet; and 3 Hagg. 385, The Dantsic Packet.
Under extraordinary circumstances, then, it is plain, that salvage services may contingently be rendered by officers, seamen, pilots, passengers of either sex, agents, magistrates, engineers, and even by the master on board of the ship imperilled, or which has perished by seaperil or “cum vi ventorum.”
The ordinary claims of salvors give rise to no controversy about their right, or even merit, except so far as it may supply a mode or means of fixing the quantum.
But in extraordinary claims, then, the primary question is the salvor's right; that being settled, then a contest arises to ascertain the degree of merit, and finally to determine the quantum of salvage to be allowed. It is equitable that the award should be reasonable. In military salvage cases, the quantum is an aliquot part, limited in different countries by some statutable provision. In civil salvage causes, what shall be awarded is a matter of judicial discretion, varying according to the recognized principles of the general maritime law, and not fixed by any prescribed municipal regulation.
In administering this law, it is alike the privilege and province of a judge in admiralty to pronounce judgment in behalf of substantial justice, or in deference and obedience to the well-known principles and precepts of maritime law.
The function of drawing the precise line where salvage service begins and contract duty ends, in the case of seamen, is not always easily performed. It is often quite difficult and embarrassing even for those possessing the highest capacity for the judicial office. In investigating the marine rights and settling the legal status of mariners and merchants, mere learning will not alone suffice, but something more is requisite. There should be superadded also a predisposition to do right for the sake of the right and do justice for justice's sake. Accordingly, the fixing of the quantum of compensation, in civil salvage cases, is left unreservedly to the court's discretion, unrestricted by any statutable limit. The court are, therefore, at liberty to award a larger or less sum, as the facts may justify or circumstances seem to require.
An asserted salvage service, at first, may appear to