ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Friday, November 3, 2006

The Little Tugboat that Did

In October of 2003, when the Staten Island ferry crashed into a concrete pier, a mate on the Dorothy J. tugboat put down his newspaper and went to assist in the salvage of the ferry. Apparently, the crew of the Dorothy J. never got a thank you for their rescue efforts. And, according to the NY Times, the tugboat mate has sued in the EDNY seeking a reward for their actions on that day. The theory: “pure marine salvage.” This is apparently an old admiralty law from a line of cases that requires the rescuer to show “that the salvaged vessel was in peril of being lost or destroyed, that the service rendered was voluntary, and that the service was a success.” The salvage law is obviously meant to encourage mariners to assist one another even when they are putting their own commercial interests at risk.

The City’s defense (at least in part) seems to be: the tugboat was only doing what it had a preexisting duty to do under its contract – i.e., move ferries. The tugboat mate responds that moving ferries normally would require two tugboats and a pilot to direct the effort – i.e., this well beyond the scope of what we had originally agreed to undertake.

The price tag for the work of a good Samaritan: the tugboat mate seeks a $6 million reward. If he doesn’t get the money? Well, then the purpose of the “pure marine salvage” line of case law will be thwarted: next time there is a disaster like the Staten Island ferry crash, he will just “keep [his] head in the paper and keep reading.”

[Meredith R. Miller]

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