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  • 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 mortgages.
  • 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 Lien

Anyone 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.

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