RMS Titanic v Haver
US Court of appeals, 1999
The saved people from the titanic and some lifeboats were taken to NY. Another ship took bodies and took them to Nova Scotia.
Haver discovered the Titanic at the bottom of the North Atlantic in 1985. Salvage efforts began 2 years later.
- In 1994 a federal trial court exercising constructive in rem jurisdiction awarded exclusive salvage rights, as well as ownership of recovered artifacts to RMS Titanic Inc. Two years later it entered an injunction protecting the rights of RMS against any person in the world prohibiting to do salvage operations including, conducting search, survey, taking pictures or video and entering the wreck site with that intention.
- In the order, the court enjoined the appellants, Haver and DOE as well.
- Haver and DOE appealed arguing lack of personal jurisdiction over them from the trial court, lack of jurisdiction of the court over the wreck, the scope of the injunction was too broad.
Whether a US court has jurisdiction over the Titanic. That is whether a US court can regulate the salvage rights in the wreck of the Titanic which lies in international waters.
The court has constructive in rem jurisdiction over the Titanic.
The court affirmed in part and reversed in part.
The Appeals court decided that Haver and DOE could not conduct any salvage operations of the site, the that they could visit the site as long as their activities did not constitute any salvage effort or interfere with RMS salvage rights.
- No theory permits a court to adjudicate the rights of persons over which it lacks personal jurisdiction with respect to a vessel in international waters that has never been within the court’s territory. Not does any such theory authorize an injunction prohibiting persons from viewing and photographing a wreck when the salvor is not actively conducting salvage operations.
- The trial court justified its personal jurisdiction over Haver and DOE and to enter an injunction against them because it had “constructive in rem jurisdiction over the wreck itself based on the presence within the judicial district of physical items salvaged from the wreck. This way it protected the salvor in possession when it is impossible to bring the entire wreck into the judicial district at a single point in time. However, the appeals court denied this saying that having in rem jurisdiction doesn’t give the court in personam jurisdiction.
- Since the salvors are still performing operations, the in rem case is still pending.
- Constructive in rem jurisdiction authorizes the court to enjoin DOE, Haver and “the whole world” against interfering with RMS operations.
- Jurisdiction in Constitution: US Constitution article III extends the judicial power of federal courts to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.
- Jurisdiction: Analysis re authority of US courts to adjudicate salvage rights in shipwrecks in international waters requires inquiries into:
- the nature and scope of admiralty jurisdiction
- the applicability of salvage law as part of the common law of maritime nations, jus gentium.
- The reach of an admiralty court’s in rem jurisdiction.
- Jurisdiction in rem: for the court to have in rem jurisdiction, the court must have jurisdiction over the res, the property which is named as defendant. The court must have exclusive custody and control over the property. To exercise in rem jurisdiction over a ship, the ship must be within the district in which the in rem complaint is filed.
- How in rem jurisdiction works: An in rem action (for enforcing a salvage claim) depends on the court’s having jurisdiction over the res. But, only if the court has exclusive custody and control over the property, it has jurisdiction over the property so as to be able to adjudicate rights. However, the ship must be within the district in which the in rem complaint is filed.
- Possession: while the res must be in custodia legis (in the court’s possession), this possession may be actual or constructive.
- Constructive Possession (Constructive in rem jurisdiction): less than physical seizure. A court can exercise in rem jurisdiction over an entire ship when only a part of it is present in the court. Possession of a thing gives you undistructive possession of the whole. All of the artifacts from the vessel form part of a single piece of property that is subject to the salvage operation. This is a fiction, but in a way is a reality because salvors are viewing this operation from the salvors point of view as a single operation.
- Limits of in rem: The limits of in rem jurisdiction, as traditionally understood are defined by the effective limits of sovereignty itself.
- If a court has in rem jurisdiction, it doesn’t mean it has personal jurisdiction. In order to enforce salvage rights against a third party for which the court has in rem jurisdiction, the court must obtain personam jurisdiction over the third party through the service of process.
- Law of finds and Law of Salvage:
- Law of finds: a person who discovers a shipwreck in navigable waters that has been long lost and abandoned and who reduces the property to actual or constructive possession, become the property’s owner. The courts disfavor its application.
- Law of Salvage: it assumes that the property being salved is owned by another and thus that it has not been abandoned. The property remains from the owner. The owner of the property remains the owner of the property.
- Salvage Claim: it most often applies to ships that haven’t sunk, but to ships that have been in a collision and the ship needs to be rescued so the ship doesn’t sink. “Danger invites Rescue”, salvage is the maritime law equivalent of that as in “No Cure No Pay”. This is a standard form of contract, it’s an open-form contract and in the industry the terms are well known.
- Us law in this area is consistent with the ius gentium.
- The whole concept here is a rescue-reward. This happen as an operation of law, in salvage law there’s no consent, no written contract. If the owner of the property is in distressed the salvor is permitted to salvage regardless of the owner consent. There are some cases where the owner of the property can refuse salvage.
- Requirements for salvage:
- that he has rendered aid to a distressed ship or its cargo in navigable waters. (in this case the Titanic doesn’t seem so distressed).
- that the service was voluntarily rendered without any preexisting obligation arising from contract or otherwise to the distressed ship or property.
- That the service was useful by effecting salvage of the ship or its cargo.
- The salvage must protect the property.
- Lien: Upon rendering salvage service a salvor obtains a lien in the saved property by operation of law to secure payment of compensation and award due from the property owner.
- Duties of salvage: Law of salvage imposes duties of good faith, honesty and diligence in protecting the property in salvor’s care
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