Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Can I get sued for participating in Amver?

Any time Good Samaritans are called upon to perform search and rescue services someone eventually asks "Can we be sued if things go wrong?" and we can't blame you for asking. It's also no secret that occasionally an Amver rescue doesn't end in lives saved. Sometimes people get anxious (and who wouldn't in a survival situation?) and act prematurely, perhaps not listening to rescue orders from ships, resulting in injury or death. Other times there may be equipment failures or it may be to dangerous to attempt rescue operations.

So what sort of liability issues surround Amver participants during search and rescue operations?

We are not lawyers but perhaps this overview, and some comments of our readers, will shed some light on this important topic.

There are several international Conventions and laws surrounding merchant mariners and their duty to act when notified of a maritime emergency.
  • The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974, Regulation 33 (Paragraph 1) states the following (SOLAS link): The master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance, on receiving information from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so. If the ship receiving the distress alert is unable or, in special circumstances of the case, considers it unreasonable or unnecessary to proceed to their assistance, the master must enter in the log-book the reason for failing to proceed to the assistance of the persons in distress, taking into account the recommendation of the Organization to inform the appropriate search and rescue service accordingly.

  • The Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law relating to Assistance and Salvage at Sea, 23 September 1910, Article 11, states that (link): Every master is bound, so far as he can do so without serious danger to his vessel, her crew and her passengers, to render assistance to everybody, even though an enemy, found at sea in danger of being lost.

  • The International Convention on Salvage, 28 April 1989, Article 10, states (link):
Duty to render assistance
  1. Every master is bound, so far as he can do so without serious danger to his vessel and persons theron, to render assistance to any person in danger of being lost at sea.
  2. The States Parties shall adopt the measures necessary to enforce the duty set out in paragraph 1.
  3. The owner of the vessel shall incur no liability for a breach of the duty of the master under paragraph 1.
  • The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Article 98, states the following (link):
  1. Every State shall require the master of a ship flying its flag, in so far as he can do so without serious danger to the ship, the crew or the passengers:
  • to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost
  • to proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance, in so far as such action may reasonably be expected of him
  • after a collision, to render assistance to the other ship, its crew and its passengers and, where possible, to inform the other ship of the name of its own ship, its port of registry and the nearest port at which it will call.
  • 46 USC 2304-Duty to provide assistance at sea (link)
(a) A master or individual in charge of a vessel shall render assistance to any individual found at sea in danger of being lost, so far as the master or individual in charge can
do so without serious danger to the master's or individual's vessel or individuals
on board.

(b) A master or individual violating this section shall be fined not more than $1,000, imprisoned for not more than 2 years, or both.

The duty to assist others in distress at sea is no greater or less for vessels participating in ship reporting systems than for those not participating. By enrolling in Amver, a vessel voluntarily provides their position throughout their voyage and are available to divert for search and rescue if so required.

Advantages of vessel participation are operational and humanitarian, and do not affect obligations of the persons in charge of any vessel. Amver is only the vehicle in which to more effectively provide lifesaving capabilities to persons in distress at sea.

So what do you have to say? I know there are maritime lawyers from around the world that read the Amver blog. What do you have to say about this? Share your thoughts!

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