Federal Admiralty Law - United States (Marine Recovery)
Any shipwreck recovery or recovery of valuable cargo such as Gold Doubloons, Silver Pieces of Eight, Jewelry, Rare Porcelain or valuable artifacts within US Federal waters is governed by US Federal Admiralty Law. Generally US Federal waters are from 3 miles out to sea to international waters.
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An overview of Federal Admiralty Law from a Prestigious Law School
The United States Constitution states that the federal "judicial
Power shall extend ..to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction."11 The
Judiciary Act of 1789 implemented the clause and vested exclusive jurisdiction of
admiralty cases in the federal courts of the United States.12 The "Saving to
Suitors" Clause of the Judiciary Act of 1789 permits concurrent jurisdiction in
state courts for remedies
available in the common law.13 This clause allows state courts to exercise jurisdiction
11 U.S. CONST. art. III, § 2.
12 See-Judiciary Act of 1789, ch. 20, § 7, 1 Stat. 73 (1789)."
13 See id. § 9; see also 28 U.S.C. § 1331(1) (1994). Common law actions include
contract claims and tort actions that occur in a maritime setting. See GERARD J: MANGONE,
UNITED STATES ADMIRALTY LAW 65 (1997).
in all areas in which the common law provides a remedy.14 Inpersonam and quasi in rem actions are known to the common law and can be pursued in state courts. Courts, however, sitting in admiralty have created a number of unique institutions that have no comparable common law actions.15 One such unique institution is the in rem action.
An in rem action is a proceeding against the vessel itself.16 The in rem action is unique because it can convey to a party title to a vessel that is good against the whole world.17 State law attachments or foreclosure actions only "convey" the defendant's interest in the thing"18 and are not binding on parties not present in the proceeding.19 Federal courts retain "exclusive admiralty jurisdiction over proceedings in rem" because "the in rem action was not known to the common law."20 Admiralty proceedings in federal courts are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and its Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims.21
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h) states that if a complaint has an admiralty cause of action as well as an independent source of federal jurisdiction, the complaint may include a statement invoking "an admiralty or maritime claim .... [However, i]f the claim is cognizable only in admiralty, it is an admiralty or maritime claim for those purposes whether so identified or not."22
The unique rules in admiralty proceedings are a result of the special circumstances attendant in the maritime setting.23 The supplemental rules for admiralty govern, inter alia, actions in rem.24 An in rem action is available to enforce any maritime lien, or when otherwise authorized by statute.25 A maritime lien can arise in any case in which a vessel's owner has failed to pay debts incurred by the vessel.26. These debts can include "claims for injuries, wages, salvage, and other
14 See THOMAS J. SCHOENBAUM, ADMIRALTY AND MARITIME LAW, § 2-2 (2d
15. See id
16 See id.
17 See id § 2-2, at 80 n.3. The in rem process is used to enforce a maritime lien. The
maritime lien is based on the legal fiction that the ship is a party to the action. This concept
allows a lien to attach without regard to who is in possession of the vessel. A lienholder can
institute an action and get title, even if the vessel is in the hands of a bona fide purchaser
acting in good faith. See id § 7-1, at 421-22 n. 1.
I8 Id § 2-2, at 80 n.3.
19 See D. ROBERTSON, ADMIRALTY AND FEDERALISM 127 (1970).
20 SCHOENBAUM, supra note 14, § 2-2, at 80.
21 See FED. R. CIV. P. 9(h).
22 Id. This means that an action "cognizable only in admiralty" does not require a
statement invoking admiralty procedures. See id.
23 See SCHOENBAUM, supra note 14, § 2-2, at 80 n.3 (explaining the need to adjudicate
title as to the world and not only between parties).
24 See FED. R. CIV. P., Supp. A(2).
25 See id Supp. C(1).
26 See MANGONE, supra note 13, at 59 (discussing the maritime lien and its uses). This
products or services."27 The 1993 International Convention on Maritime Liens and Mortgages currently dictates the priority of various types of liens, with salvage liens taking priority over all claims other than those for the crew's wages and for loss of life or personal injury.28 Salvage claims are prioritized in chronological order, with the most recent salvage claim taking first priority.29
The admiralty in rem procedure is designed to protect maritime lienholders from the danger of the vessel literally sailing away, hence avoiding its bills. The procedure provides a method for arresting the vessel while a court determines the disposition of the claim. The vessel's owner can pay off the lien and secure the release of his vessel, or the court can order the vessel sold to pay off the liens.30
The admiralty in rem proceeding begins when a creditor files a claim in admiralty court asserting an interest in a vessel. The court then issues a warrant instructing a U.S. Marshall to take possession of the vessel and to present it to the court for disposition.31 The court then considers all of the competing claims to the arrested vessel and rules accordingly. If the titleholders of the vessel cannot, or will not, pay the judgment, the vessel is sold, and the proceeds are distributed to its creditors.32
Plaintiffs can use the admiralty in rem proceeding for a wide variety of claims, including claims for payments for supplies, crew wages, wharfage fees, dry-dock services, and maritime rescue.33 In addition, the in rein action is used to determine the rights to a vessel claimed as a "prize" in time of war between sovereigns.34
Numerous Supreme Court cases have ruled that the United States, as a sovereign, is not exempt from in rem judgments regarding cargo, damages, or suits in general average,35 in cases in which normal shippers would be liable.36 The Court, however,
rests on the fiction that the vessel itself incurred the debt. See
supra note 16 and
27 MANGONE, supra note 13, at 59.
28 See May 6, 1993, 33 I.L.M. 353. Salvage claims are accorded such high priority
because, without the efforts of the salvor, there would be no vessel against which to bring
an action. See SCHOENBAUM, supra note 14, § 7-6, at 448.
29 See MANGONE, supra note 13, at 59.
30 See id.
31 See Florida Dep't. of State v. Treasure Salvors, Inc., 458 U.S. 670, 678-80 (1982)
(describing the procedure for arresting the res in that case).
32 See SCHOENBAUM, supra note 14, § 7-6, at 447.
33 See id § 7-6, at 447-48; supra notes 25-30 and accompanying text.
34 See, e.g., The Siren, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 152, 161-63 (1868) (determining the rightful
title of a vessel claimed as a prize during the Civil War).
35 A suit in general average apportions a partial loss of the cargo among all shippers on
the vessel. It is an equitable principle used in situations in which one shipper's loss benefits
other shippers on the same voyage. It prevents a sole shipper from losing his entire cargo
while another shipper loses nothing, merely because of some twist of fate; a general average
suit apportions the loss so that all shippers are treated equally. See SCHOENBAUM, supra
note 14, §§ 15-1, 15-2, at 811-13.
36 See, e.g., The Davis, 77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 15, 22 (1869) (finding no claim of sovereign
in The Siren37 noted that this result is obtained only because the United States Treasury is not invaded and, thus, the United States is not liable for any damages in excess of the value of the arrested res.38
Marine salvage is another area in which unique considerations
require the uniform application of in rem proceedings. The Law of Salvage
developed as an incentive for seamen to undertake voluntarily extraordinary
measures to preserve life and property at sea.39 Its history dates as far
back as 900 B.C. to the Rhodians, with further development by the Romans,
and later, the British.40 American courts, sitting
in admiralty, have long recognized the law of salvage.41
There are three prerequisites to a salvage claim:42 the rescue must be voluntary; the salvage must be successful in whole or in part; and the vessel must be in danger from a marine peril.43 The requirement that the rescue be voluntary precludes a hired salvor from later discarding his contract and pursuing a salvage claim.44 Because salvage is an equitable principle, a court will not grant an award if the rescue is either wholly unsuccessful or unnecessary.45
Once a salvor demonstrates that he or she is eligible for an award, the court considers numerous factors in determining the award amount.46 The basis of the
immunity where the marshal could attain possession of the res without
any officer or agent of the government"); The Siren, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 152 (1868) (holding
that the United States could not assert sovereign immunity in order to protect the proceeds
of a prize sale from admiralty claims in court); United States v. Wilder, 28 F. Cas. 601
(C.C.D. Mass. 1838) (No. 16,694) (examining the history of sovereign immunity in
admiralty proceedings and finding no justification for a prerogative in either salvage or
general average proceedings in rem).
37 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 152 (1868).
38 See id. at 154.
39 See MANGONE, supra note 13, at 203-04 (outlining the history of the law of salvage).
40 See id. at 201-04.
41 See, e.g., Mason v. The Blaireau, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 240 (1804) (recognizing the
incentive effects of a large reward to salvors).
42 See MANGONE, supra note 13, at 210.
43 See id.; SCHOENBAUM, supra note 14, § 14-1, at 784.
44 See SCHOENBAUM, supra note 14, § 14-1, at 785-86 (stating that even an oral
contract will preclude a salvor from recovering a salvage award). Similarly, anyone under
a duty to perform a rescue is not entitled to a salvage award. See id
45 See id. § 14-1, at 786. In treasure salvage cases, the most controversial element is
often that of marine peril. See id. Many courts will consider the possible loss of the wreck
through decay sufficiently perilous to support a salvage award. See id. § 14-1, at 785. In
Treasure Salvors, Inc. v. Unidentified Wrecked and Abandoned Sailing Vessel, 569 F.2d
330 (5th Cir. 1978), the Fifth Circuit held that "marine peril" included salvage of a ship
from the ocean bottom because the sea is capable of inflicting continuing damage through
erosion and wave action. See id. at 337; see also SCHOENBAUM, supra note 14, § 14-1, at
46 Courts typically weigh such factors as the degree of danger facing the property, the
value of the salvaged property, the risk incurred by the salvors, the salvors' skill and
valuation is not quantum meruit, but rather more "akin to a
bounty" for valiant
Court awards typically have been very generous in order to encourage and reinforce the incentive for salvors to undertake rescues despite the dangers and high costs of these endeavors. Awards of fifty percent of the rescued property are common, and, in some instances, awards have reached ninety percent.48
One important facet of salvage law is that it does not convey title to the salvor.49 The law of salvage proceeds from the assumption that there is an owner who holds title; the award to the salvor is simply payment for returning the property to its owner.50
The law of finds is closely related to the law of salvage, particularly in treasure salvage cases.51 The main distinction is that the law of finds applies when the property was intentionally abandoned with no intention, on the part of the original
energy, the value of the salvors' equipment, the amount of risk of
loss of such equipment,
and the time and labor expended in the operation. For a good discussion of the factors, see
Columbus-America Discovery Group v. Atlantic Mutual Ins. Co., 974 F.2d 450, 468 (4th
Cir. 1992) (citing The Blackwall, 77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 1 (1869)); see also SCHOENBAUM,
supra note 14, § 14-1, at 790.
In deciding the salvage award for the salvors of the S.S. Central America, the court in
Columbus-America added a new element to the aforementioned factors. The court
considered the "degree to which the salvors have worked to protect the historical and
archeological value of the wreck and items salved." Columbus-America, 974 F.2d at 468.
47 Sabrina L. McLaughlin, Roots, Relics and Recovery: What Went Wrong with the
Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987, 19 COLUM.-VLA J. L. & ARTS 149, 163 (1995). In
Mason v. Blaireau, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 240 (1804), Chief Justice Marshall stated:
The allowance of a very ample compensation for those services, (one very much
exceeding the mere risk encountered, and labor employed in effecting them,)
is intended as an inducement to render them, which it is for the public interests,
and for the general interests of humanity, to hold forth to those who navigate
Id. at 266. The enhanced award is justified for public policy reasons as a way to encourage
salvors to take risks to save property. See SCHOENBAUM, supra note 14, § 14-5. The award,
however, is limited to the value of the property salvaged and under normal circumstances
is capped at 50% of the rescued property. See id.
48 See, e.g., Columbus-America, 974 F.2d at 467-68 (indicating that awards often
greatly exceed the costs of salvage and approach the total value of the find); see also
McLaughlin, supra note 47, at 160-67 (providing examples of awards).
49 See MANGONE, supra note 13, at 214.
50 See id.
51 See McLaughlin, supra note 47, at 160.
owner, to recover it.52 Although the law of finds is not exclusively an admiralty remedy, it has, over time, developed its own special application in admiralty cases.53 The law of finds is based on the common law precept of "finders keepers. 54 In
fact, this is a misnomer because rarely can a finder actually keep what he or she has found.55 The basic doctrine dictates that the finder of an object holds title superior to all except the original owner of the property in question. If no original owner claims the property, the finder-can keep the title.56
A common law exception to the law of finds was the discovery of property embedded in land. In that case, the found property was said to be in the constructive possession of the landowner.57 The idea of constructive possession by the landowner is not recognized in cases involving "treasure trove."58 The treasure trove doctrine applies when goods of antiquity, such as gold bullion or coins, are found in the land of a third party. A finder of treasure trove has a claim subordinate to the original owner, but superior to the landowner's claim.59
Because the law of finds is not strictly maritime law, it is possible to prosecute such an action in a state court.60 Federal courts in admiralty, however, can still assume original jurisdiction to make the initial decision regarding whether to apply the pure admiralty action of salvage.61
Once the admiralty court has jurisdiction over the case and invests the time necessary to determine whether to apply the law of salvage or finds, the doctrine of
52 See id Courts in
admiralty are reluctant to apply the law of finds because it
encourages finders to secret away discoveries in order to prevent the true owner from
claiming title. The law of salvage, on the other hand, promotes the recovery of property
and, because it is an equitable notion, ensures that the salvor will get a just and ample
reward for his efforts. See ida.t 160-61; see also Columbus-America, 974 F.2d at 460-65
(discussing the reluctance of courts in admiralty to apply the law of finds absent express
53 See McLaughlin, supra note 47, at 163-65 (describing the common law doctrine of
finds and its special application in a marine setting).
54 See MANGONE, supra note 13, at 223.
55 See ida.t 223-24 (explaining that a finder can only keep the property if the rightful
owner is not known and does not assert a claim).
56 See id.
57 This is the basis under which the United States claims title under the Abandoned
Shipwreck Act (ASA), 43 U.S.C. §§ 2101-2106 (1994), to the shipwreck and then transfers
that title to the states. See id The ASA defines embedded as "firmly affixed in the
submerged lands or in coralline formations such that the use of tools of excavation is
required in order to move the bottom sediments to gain access to the shipwreck, its cargo,
and any part thereof." 43 U.S.C. § 2102(a).
58 See McLaughlin, supra note 47, at 163-64.
59 See id
60 See supra notes 13-14 and accompanying text.
61 See id
judicial efficiency makes a strong policy argument in favor of allowing the court to take the issue to final judgment.62
Admiralty courts do not use the doctrine of finds often because they rarely consider an item to be abandoned by the original owner.63 Admiralty courts always have required a showing of abandonment before applying the law of finds.64 An express statement by the owner is usually necessary to demonstrate abandonment.65 Under some circumstances, however, courts have inferred abandonment "from lapse of time and non-use of the property. 66 Abandonment in either case must be shown by "clear and convincing" evidence.67
Congress has passed two statutes that, in varying degrees, allow states to claim title to shipwrecks and attempt to prevent the application of either the law of salvage or finds to treasure salvors' claims.
In 1953, Congress passed the Submerged Lands Act (SLA),68 giving
states title to the underwater lands and natural resources within three
miles of their respective coastlines.69 The purpose of the SLA was to allow
the states to manage and develop these underwater resources.70 In listing
examples of what were considered natural resources, the SLA notably omitted
any mention of shipwrecks or other manmade
artifacts.71 Nonetheless, many states claimed title to wrecks under the SLA, arguing
62 It would waste
valuable court resources to hear facts sufficient to determine whether
"finds" or "salvage" applied and then require a state court to rehear all of the evidence in
order to rule.
63 See, e.g., Columbus-America Discovery Group v. Atlantic Mutual Ins. Co., 974 F.2d
450, 460 (4th Cir. 1992) (discussing the reluctance of admiralty courts to use the law of
64 See SCHOENBAUM, supra note 14, § 14-7, at 798.
65 See id.; see also Sea Hunt Inc. v. The Unidentified, Shipwrecked Vessel, 47 F. Supp.
2d 678, 687 (E.D. Va. 1999) (holding that if the original owner appears, abandonment may
not be inferred, but must be proven by clear and convincing evidence).
66 SCHOENBAUM, supra note 14, § 14-7, at 799.
67 Id. § 14-7, at 799 n.23 (citing Columbus-America). In Columbus-America, the court
indicated that in almost all cases courts should use salvage law and that they only should
resort to finds law if there has been an express renunciation of ownership or no owner
claims title after the wreck has been discovered. See Columbus-America, 974 F.2d at 464-
65. But see Treasure Salvors, Inc. v. Unidentified Wrecked and Abandoned Sailing Vessel,
569 F.2d 330, 337 (5th Cir. 1978) (asserting that the application of the doctrine of salvage
law that presumes the existence of an owner of a "wrecked vessel whose very location has
been lost for centuries ... stretches a fiction to absurd lengths").
68 43 U.S.C. §§ 1301-1315 (1994).
69 See 43 U.S.C. § 1301(a)(2).
70 See 43 U.S.C. § 1311 (a); see also McLaughlin, supra note 47, at 174.
71 Listed examples of natural resources included "oil, gas, minerals, fish, shrimp... and
other marine animal and plant life." 43 U.S.C. § 1301(e).
that, under the law of finds, they were in constructive possession of all embedded wrecks within three miles of their coastline.72
After asserting title to the wrecks, states invariably invoked the Eleventh Amendment against any attempt by salvors to claim salvage for any wreck within three miles of the coast.73 Some attempts by states to assert ownership were successful,74 while others "founder[ed] on the shoals of Federal sovereignty.75
Congress, in an attempt to clear up the confusion regarding the
SLA and shipwrecks and to promote consistency in the way that shipwrecks
were managed, 76 passed the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act of 1987 (ASA).77
The bill's sponsors were concerned with the preservation of historic
shipwrecks and introduced the bill in the hope that states would regulate
and manage the discovery and preservation of historic
The ASA asserts that the United States claims title, as sovereign, to all abandoned shipwrecks that are either embedded in the submerged lands of a state,79 embedded in the coral formations of a state,80 or listed in the National Register of Historic Places.81 The ASA then transfers-title of the specified shipwrecks to the states in whose submerged land the wreck is embedded.82 It also directs the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to promulgate non-binding guidelines for the states to manage historic shipwrecks.83
One of the most controversial features of the ASA is that shipwrecks covered under it are not subject to the admiralty laws of salvage and finds." Congress was
72 See McLaughlin, supra
note 47, at 174.
73 See id at 175.
74 See, e.g., Marx v. Guam, 866 F.2d 294 (9th Cir. 1989) (holding that the SLA
provided Guam with a colorable claim and that, because of the Eleventh Amendment, the
court could not determine Guam's claims).
75 Commonwealth v. Maritime Underwater Surveys, Inc., 531 N.E.2d 549, 553 (Mass.
1988) (finding that the SLA did not act to convey non-natural resources to the states and
citing the passage of the then newly enacted Abandoned Shipwreck Act as evidence that the
earlier SLA had not transferred title to lost shipwrecks); see also Cobb Coin Co. v.
Unidentified Wrecked and Abandoned Sailing Vessel, 549 F. Supp. 540, 549 (S.D. Fla.
1982) (holding that the SLA did not supersede general maritime law and therefore did not
grant Florida a claim to the vessel).
76 See Anne M. Cottrell, Comment, The Law of the Sea and International Marine
Archaeology: Abandoning Admiralty Law to Protect Historic Shipwrecks, 17 FORDHAM
INT'L L.J. 667, 681 (1994).
77 43 U.S.C. §§ 2101-2106 (1994).
78 See 43 U.S.C. § 1311 (a); McLaughlin, supra note 47, at 182.
79 See 43 U.S.C. § 2105(a)(1).
80 See 43 U.S.C. § 2105(a)(2).
81 See 43 U.S.C. § 2105(a)(3).
82 See 43 U.S.C. § 2105(c).
83 See 43 U.S.C. § 2104.
84 See 43 U.S.C. § 2106.
concerned that traditional rules of admiralty would compromise historical artifacts found on covered shipwrecks.85 However, according to the Supreme Court's holding in Panama Railroad Co. v. Johnson,86 Congress cannot entirely relinquish the federal courts' constitutionally granted admiralty jurisdiction.87 In Panama Railroad, the Court set boundaries to Congress' regulation of the federal courts' admiralty jurisdiction. First, the Court held that "the spirit and purpose" of the constitutional provision assigning admiralty jurisdiction to the federal courts mandates that any regulation be "coextensive with and operate uniformly in the whole of the United States."88 Second, the Court held that there were certain boundaries to admiralty and maritime jurisdiction that were well established by history, and that Congress could neither exclude something clearly within this scope, nor include actions clearly outside of it.89 The ASA arguably violates both of these principles.90
The ASA violates the uniformity principle because it allows and even encourages states to implement their own programs regarding shipwrecks.91 The ASA provides states with only non-binding suggestions on how to manage their individual shipwreck programs.92 Furthermore, the Act encourages states to pass their own regulations concerning salvage rights.93
The ASA violates the exclusivity principle because shipwrecks traditionally have been considered within the legitimate domain of admiralty.94 Admiralty courts consistently have found shipwrecks within theirjurisdiction.95 The ASA explicitly states that the law of salvage and the law of finds do not apply to shipwrecks covered
85 See Cottrell, supra
note 76, at 698 (discussing the legislative history of the ASA).
86 264 U.S. 375 (1924).
87 See id at 386-91.
88 Id at 386-87.
89 See ida.t 386.
90 This Note outlines some of the constitutional arguments surrounding the ASA but
does not purport to give them complete coverage. Even assuming that the ASA is
constitutional in abrogating the applicability of admiralty law to wrecks covered under the
ASA, the determination of whether a shipwreck is covered should be considered within
admiralty law. This Note argues that a state cannot escape federal admiralty jurisdiction by
making the bald assertion that it holds title under the ASA. For more arguments regarding
the constitutionality of the ASA, see Denise B. Feingold, The Abandoned Shipwreck Act of
1987: Navigating Turbulent Constitutional Waters?, 10 U. BRIDGEPORT L. REv. 361
91 See Panama R.R., 264 U.S. at 392 (discussing the need for uniformity).
92 See Feingold, supra note 90, at 396.
93 See id at 395-96.
94 See, e.g., Houseman v. The Schooner North Carolina, 40 U.S. (15 Pet.) 40 (1841)
(stating that no court could have jurisdiction over shipwrecks other than a court in
95 See, e.g., Zychv. Unidentified, Wrecked and Abandoned Vessel Believed to be the
"Seabird," 941 F.2d 525, 528-30 (7th Cir. 1991) (discussing jurisdiction of admiralty courts
by the Act.96 Because the law of salvage is an action unique to admiralty, it would seem that the ASA is a clear violation of the Panama Railroad principle.
It could be argued that the ASA applies only to vessels that are embedded in the state's land. Therefore, the law of finds, which is not an exclusive admiralty action, applies rather than the law of salvage.97 The first difficulty with this argument is that, in order to use the law of finds, a court must determine that the shipwreck is abandoned.98 The second is that the ASA covers ships "eligible" for inclusion in the Federal Register of Historic Shipwrecks, whether or not these ships are "embedded."99 If a wreck is not embedded, the rationale behind the state's assertion of title evaporates. The law of finds only grants title to a landowner if the found property was embedded in his land.100 A court must make a threshold determination regarding abandonment and embedment in order to determine which law applies. The determination of whether a vessel has been abandoned and whether it is embedded is squarely within traditional admiralty jurisdiction.101
The Supreme Court, in Deep Sea, explained that the term abandonment in the ASA retained its historical meaning under the principles of admiralty law.102 This clarification was crucial because of the special meaning of abandonment in admiralty. Abandonment in admiralty requires that there be some affirmative action on the part of an owner to relinquish ownership in the property.103
In some circumstances, abandonment can be inferred from such factors as the passage of time and the lack of any action to attempt recovery.104 Courts in admiralty, however, are extremely reluctant to find abandonment and have found non-abandonment even when ships have been lost for hundreds of years with no attempt at salvage.105 Particularly in cases in which new technology has recovered a vessel,
96 See 43 U.S.C. § 2016 (1994).
97 See Peter Tomlinson, Full Fathom Five: Legal Hurdles to Treasure, 42 EMORY L.J.
1099 (1993) (discussing the historical application of both principles).
98 Admiralty courts will apply the law of finds only if there is clear and convincing
evidence of abandonment. See supra notes 63-67 and accompanying text.
99 See 43 U.S.C. § 2105(a)(3).
100 See supra note 57 and accompanying text.
101 See, e.g., Zych v. Unidentified, Wrecked and Abandoned Vessel Believed to be the
"Seabird," 941 F.2d 525, 532 (7th Cir. 1991) (discussing the assertion that admiralty
jurisdiction over shipwrecks was "unquestioned before passage of the ASA").
102 See California v. Deep Sea Research, Inc., 523 U.S. 491, 508 (1998) (clarifying that
"the meaning of 'abandoned' under the ASA conforms with its meaning under admiralty
103 See supra notes 63-67 and accompanying text.
104 The Court in Deep Sea struggled, in vain, to define a more certain indicator of
abandonment. One Justice humorously suggested, during oral arguments, using "lives in
being plus 21 years" as the time limit to assert a claim. U.S. Supreme Court Official
Transcript at *33, Deep Sea (No. 96-1400), available in 1997 WL 751917.
105 See, e.g., Columbus-America Discovery v. Atlantic Mut. Ins., 974 F.2d 450, 467-68
earlier attempts at recovery are often deemed not made because they were not sufficiently likely to succeed.106
It is important that even in these cases, abandonment is only presumed, and can be rebutted if an owner simply shows up and makes a claim stating that he or she had no intent to abandon.107 Therefore, it is appropriate to allow federal courts to entertain the original action to preclude necessitating removal if an owner appears at any time during the process to assert a claim.
(4th Cir. 1992) (finding non-abandonment despite 130 years of
nonuse); Sea Hunt v.
Unidentified, Shipwrecked Vessel, 47 F. Supp. 2d 678 (E.D. Va. 1999) (finding the Spanish
vessel Juno not abandoned after being lost at sea for almost two hundred years). The court
in Sea Hunt also adjudicated the rights to another vessel, the La Galga. The court held that
the La Galga, shipwrecked in 1750, had been expressly abandoned by Spain's adoption of
the Definitive Treaty of Peace Between France, Great Britain, and Spain on February 10,
1763. See id at 688-90; see also Definitive Treaty of Peace Between France, Great Britain
and Spain, Feb. 10, 1763, 278 Parry's Consol. T.S. 279. The treaty granted Britain "'all
that Spain possesses on the continent of North America."' Sea Hunt, 47 F. Supp 2d. at 689
(quoting 1763 Treaty, art. XX).
106 See Columbus-America, 974 F.2d at 463.
107 See id. at 464-65 (finding that an inference of abandonment with respect to an ancient
shipwreck "would be improper.., should a previous owner appear and assert his ownership
interest"); see also Sea Hunt, 47 F. Supp. 2d at 688 (agreeing with Columbus-America that
inferring abandonment would be improper if a previous owner asserted his interest).
Treasure Expeditions: treasure hunting, archaeology and shipwreck recovery