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The remuneration, when any is awarded for salvage services, generally varies from one quarter to one half of the salved property; or more, in derelict, at the court's discretion, may be awarded.
Salvage services, rendered or tendered spontaneously by the persons performing it, must be essentially maritime in its nature; and not necessarily originating in any mutual agreement; nor is it dependent upon any express contract previously entered into by the salvors. Whenever useful salvage service has been actually rendered, the law implies that the salvor is entitled to compensation or reward, to be allowed at the discretion of the judge of an admiralty court. Indeed, all prior stipu lations are superfluous and disregarded in admiralty; having no binding force and effect whatever, unless it be as a guide or standard to fix the amount of salvage to be awarded. If a claimant has paused before the service, to stipulate for remuneration, his claim for salvage would, for that reason, be subjected to suspicion, as to whether it had been voluntarily rendered; and would accordingly be more rigidly scrutinized by the admiralty judge.
Certainly the claim is no stronger because the salvor, promoting it, may have cautiously made a previous agreement; and perhaps it ought not to be deemed, for that reason only, any weaker; especially where beneficial and meritorious service had been actually rendered.
The essence of this claim is, that it is for a service. in its nature substantially maritime, freely and willingly performed, and not done from a sense of duty, but resulting successfully.
By disaster, a loss occurs; and timely aid steps in
and recovers the otherwise lost property; or it may be that property is in imminent peril and danger of being lost, and human enterprise, daring, or nautical skill interposes and saves it from actual loss; in all such cases, the service rendered, when voluntary and successful, is what may be denominated legal salvage service; and if the service be strictly maritime, or even substantially so, the person performing such service, is, in contemplation of law, a salvor; and as such becomes, with or without contract or previous stipulation, legally entitled to compensation or salvage reward.
Thus stated, the doctrine derived from all ancient codes of maritime jurisprudence and modern legislation, as affecting claims for salvage, necessarily prevents and excludes, as a general rule, all those persons from claiming as salvors, whose duty, arising from situation, contract, or otherwise, it is to exert themselves to the utmost to save from peril or rescue from loss, while present, either an endangered ship or her loading.
For instance, the master, officers, and seamen of a vessel cannot properly become salvors and be entitled to a claim for salvage, unless it shall be made, at the same time, to appear in admiralty that they have rendered extraordinary services; and, by their personal exertions, have gone quite beyond the appropriate line of their duty as master, officers, and seamen. The Blaireau, 2 Cranch, 240; Hobart et al. v. Drogan et al. 10 Pet. 108; The Neptune, 1 Hagg. 237; The Florence, 20 Eng. L. & Eq. 516; and The Warrior, Lush. 476.
Passengers, as a general rule, cannot ordinarily be deemed salvors, and as such become entitled to salvage recompense, inasmuch as there is a duty incumbent upon all on board a vessel in imminent danger, to
exert themselves to their utmost ability, to save the ship, and thereby contribute to their own as well as the security of others. This duty, as well as the danger, is alike common to all on board of the imperilled ship. Park on Insurance, 303; McGinnis v. The Steamer Pontiac, Newb. 130, and S. C. 5 McLean, 359.
Nevertheless, where a passenger shall have departed from his own sphere and transcended altogether his appropriate line of duty, and, by conspicuous ability, nautical skill, and personal effort, enterprise, or daring superadded, shall have contributed to save or rescue an endangered ship or lost cargo; or has been otherwise instrumental in so doing; even a passenger may thus become in law a salvor, and entitled to salvage compensation. The earlier leading cases are those of Newman v. Walters, 3 Bos. & Pul. 612, and The Two Friends, 1 Rob. 271.
The Two Friends was the case of an American ship, taken by the French and afterwards recaptured by the The rescue was to the advantage of the owners, and the underwriters signally approved the service by voluntarily giving to the master the very handsome reward of £1,250. But the owners intervened in the libel by a passenger, and a question of jurisdiction was raised and argued; but it was overruled by Sir W. Scott.
Some of the crew were British subjects; one on board, a Mr. Miller, was deemed a passenger, but rendered valuable service. He paid £270, to buy over some Danish sailors on board the French ship, and was very instrumental in effecting the rescue."
To the sailors, American and others, the court awarded £300 each.
To Miller, the passenger, the same sum as the under
writers had paid the master (£1,250), with the addition of £270 paid by him to gain over the Danes, and £50 more for personal expenses.
The case of Newman v. Walters was heard and determined in the Common Pleas Court. Substantially it was a vessel derelict by wreck and not at sea. The facts are fit to be made accessible to the student of admiralty law; and the principles there enunciated by Lord Alvanley, C. J., and his associates, Messrs. Justices Heath and Rooke, should become familiar to all practitioners, as they have given tone and character to all subsequent adjudications, touching especially the obligations, rights, privileges, and legal status generally of the passenger on board ship, in time of peril, arising from wreck, violence of the elements, abandonment by crew, or capture by enemies. The case was decided in 1804; and the general facts were as follows. The Ship Betsey, a British ship, struck and stranded on the Chichester Shoals. Her captain and three of her crew escaped in the pinnace. The pilot in charge was drunk. The plaintiff was but a passenger; as the case finds, "a free passenger from Gravesend to Saint Kitts;" as such, he was at liberty to quit at pleasure or stay by the ship; it was his right, and he might have gone ashore in the pinnace with the deserting master. But he was urged by the mate and rest of the crew to remain and take charge. He had seen service in the merchant marine as master-mariner, was, therefore, experienced as a navigator, and yielded to the urgent request of those who remained by the ship. He was not, as a passenger, obliged so to do. On his part, it was accordingly optional; and his remaining was a voluntary act, whereby he did more than was required of him in his
situation and capacity of passenger on board ship. His detention, then, was equivalent to a retainer by the only agents of the owners present, after the actual master had escaped in the pinnace.
When the plaintiff first took command, the pilot was about to let go the anchor, an act by which the ship would probably have been irrecoverably lost. But the plaintiff, Newman, interfered and prevented this error; thus summarily displacing the pilot; and afterward safely brought the ship into Ramsgate harbor.
On landing, the owner promptly recognized his conduct; approved all he had done; applauded his efficiency and merit; and, by letter, strongly commended Captain Newman to the liberality of the underwriters: estimating and putting down £200, as the least sum that should be awarded to the plaintiff for his effective services.
The action, which was indebitatus assumpsit, was tried before Lord Alvanley, by a jury, who found for the plaintiff a verdict for £400.
A motion was made for a new trial, on two grounds, substantially: 1. No legal salvage. 2. Excessive damages. The motion was argued by Cockell, Bailey, and Best in favor, and Shepherd and Heywood against it.
But the motion, after argument, was refused, and the verdict sustained: the three judges all concurring.
The cases cited and commented upon in argument, were The Two Friends, supra; The Joseph Harvey, 1 Ch. Rob. 306, and The Beaver, 3 ibid. 292; which together supplemented all the law and authority then applicable to the subject.
The Beaver was a case of rescue, by the master and a boy, against five Frenchmen. She was a British ship,