You don’t need an economics degree to realize it’s tough out there. A help-wanted sign goes up for a custodian job and people line up at 4 a.m. to apply. Another sign that tells me that times are tough is how often I am now approached about maritime liens.
A small tug operator can’t pay a shipyard bill. An engineer on a dredge isn’t paid for a month. A bunkering company delivers diesel to a dinner cruise operator who writes a bad check. All these situations can lead to a lien being placed against a vessel.
A “lien” is basically a claim against a vessel. Liens aren’t something unique to the maritime industry. An electrician could place a lien against a homeowner if he doesn’t get paid for wiring work. However, there are a few things unique about maritime liens. They follow the vessel everywhere it goes, and they’re regarded as being against the vessel itself.
Here’s a list of claims that can result in a maritime lien:
SBlt Crew wages. Liens for wages or maintenance and cure tend to arise more often with smaller operators than with large reputable companies.
SBlt Salvage. Salvage claims arise when someone voluntarily and successfully saves another vessel from peril.
SBlt Accidents. These include collision, personal injury, wrongful death and other civil claims.
SBlt Goods and services. These include fuel, provisions, catering services, dockage, pilotage, insurance, etc.
SBlt Preferred ship mortgages. The bank issuing the mortgage issues the lien.
True to maritime law, maritime liens have their share of quirks. While you’d think that a lien is initiated by placing the debtor on notice, that’s not required with a maritime lien.
Other than the preferred ship mortgage, liens don’t require notice to the vessel owner. That’s why they’re sometimes called “secret liens.” Another oddity is that within a given lien class (wages, salvage, accidents are all lien classes), liens that come later have priority over those that came earlier.