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South Florida Maritime Lien Attorneys

Maritime Lien

What is a Maritime Lien?

A maritime lien is a claim on a vessel or maritime property arising out of goods and services furnished to or injuries caused by that property. Maritime liens allow creditors or injured parties to assert claims directly against a vessel rather than a personal claim against an owner who may be difficult to locate, based overseas or unwilling or unable to pay.

What Claims Give Rise to a Maritime Lien?

Maritime liens arise out of maritime torts or maritime contracts. Examples of some contractual claims which give rise to maritime liens are preferred ship mortgages, crew wages, vessel repair, and salvage. However, most maritime liens tend to arise out of the provision of "necessaries" to a vessel. Necessaries are things that a prudent owner would provide to enable a ship to perform the functions for which she has been engaged. Some necessaries include repairs, supplies, towage, and dockage.

Maritime liens can also arise out of tort for damage resulting from allisions, collisions, property damage, pollution and personal injury and death.

What Property is Subject to a Maritime Lien?

Depending on the type of lien, a maritime lien may attach to a vessel, a vessel's electronics, furniture, boats, fishing gear, certain types of fishing rights and permits, machinery, spare parts, fuel and other equipment, cargo, fish and property that has been salvaged from navigable waters. Some types of lien apply to leased and borrowed equipment placed on board a vessel, and some do not. Maritime liens do not apply to shore-based property such as wharves, piers and floats. Once a lien attaches to an item on a vessel, it will usually remain attached if the item is removed from the vessel.

How is a Maritime Lien Asserted?

A maritime lien attaches at the moment the goods or services are furnished. Maritime liens always follow the vessel, unless the vessel is sold by the US Marshal.

There are two ways to enforce a maritime lien. First, is by filing the lien with the US Coast Guard National Vessel Documentation Center. Although there is no need to file or record a maritime lien, it may be advantageous to you to record a lien in a variety of circumstances. For instance, the filing of a lien places third parties on notice of the debt and often results in satisfaction by the owner since financing and charter agreements typically prohibit liens. Further, a recorded lien may impede the sale or financing of a vessel.

"Self-help" is often sought by creditors in maritime lien situations, however, there is significant financial exposure to the lien holder for wrongful conversion or detention of the property in the event a lien is not valid and enforceable. "Self-help" enforcement of a lien is not usually recommended.

The second, and safest, way to enforce a maritime lien is to file an in rem action against the vessel or property in federal court. However, arresting a vessel or property is expensive. The United States Marshal normally requires an initial deposit of at least $2,500.00 to cover marshal costs, custodial (guard) costs and $1,000,000 in insurance.

Often times if experienced maritime attorneys are involved early in the process, a lien holder may avoid the cost of seizing a vessel and lessen his exposure to wrongful seizure by reaching an agreement with the owner before filing suit (or before arrest) for the posting of collateral or security. This procedure is beneficial to both the seizing party (cost effective) and the vessel interest (no delay). The obvious drawback is that if the shipowner refuses to post security, he has been given notice of the potential seizure and may avoid or leave the district if possible.

Enforcing maritime liens can be a complex process. Protect your rights. Act quickly to obtain the skilled representation you need and the compensation you deserve. To reach our South Florida maritime lien attorneys contact us online or call 772.286.7372 for a free evaluation of your case.