ABOUT MARITIME LIENS
A lien is a charge against property for payment
of debt. Maritime liens can arise under general maritime law (arising
from collision or personal injury) and by statute (ship mortgages).
Ordinarily, local law where arrest of a vessel or personal property
occurs, governs the validity of the lien and its priority with
respect to other liens. A maritime lien has characteristics that
distinguish it from other liens:
A maritime lien is a claim laid against
maritime property, most often a vessel, but may also be brought against
other personal property involved in maritime transactions such as cargo.
A maritime lien arises from services rendered
to or injuries caused by maritime property.
Generally a maritime lien attaches to the
property and is valid whether or not recorded. It travels with the
vessel or personal property from port to port and owner to owner until
it is extinguished or discharged.
Unlike land liens, most recent maritime liens
may have first priority, subject to statutes such as those establishing
A maritime lien is enforced by an action
against the property itself, by arrest. That suit must be brought in a
court having jurisdiction over the place where the property is located
at the time of enforcement. A maritime lien is not a possessory lien
such as a mechanic’s lien.
A maritime lien is extinguished by destruction
of the vessel or property, or laches (undue delay in enforcement), or is
discharged by payment or judicial act.
Who Can File a Maritime LienAnyone can file
a maritime claim of lien under certain circumstances. You can assert a
claim of lien against a maritime property if you are due compensation for
having provided labor, goods, mortgage monies and other services and
supplies or have suffered the loss of or injury to person or property for
which you have not been compensated. A maritime lien remains attached to a
vessel from owner-to-owner—regardless of re-sale—and whether it has been
filed publicly or not. Since a maritime lien remains in place and follows
a vessel everywhere, it allows the vessel to go on sailing and conducting
its business, with the understanding that the debt will be paid in the
future. Indeed, maritime liens were designed to promote the continuation
of business as usual. However the longer the person waits to enforce a
maritime lien the more likely it is that subsequent liens will take
priority or that the lien will be unenforceable due to unreasonable delay
(laches). At the same time, a claimant can force settlement of a lien by
bringing suit against a vessel and requiring the courts to sell the vessel
to satisfy the lien. In reality, this rarely happens. Most claims are
resolved out of court according to a settlement plan.