What does it mean to arrest or seize a maritime vessel?

On Behalf of | Jun 8, 2022 | Longshore And Harbor Workers |

Maritime vessels are often worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. They have to be kept in pristine condition to remain safe to operate out on the open ocean. Owners invest significantly in their initial purchase and in their maintenance.

Sometimes, maritime authorities will need to arrest a vessel. The arrest of a ship is significantly different from the arrest of a person. What happens when authorities arrest a maritime vessel?

A seaworthy vessel is its own legal entity

Although a boat is technically property, a maritime vessel is relatively unique under United States law. It can also be a separate legal entity, subject to court orders and law enforcement actions.

When there are claims against the person who owns the boat or the business that uses it for operations, the vessel may be subject to arrest. The United States Marshals Service could assist with the arrest of a vessel, which will effectively mean that the owner or operator of the vessel cannot access it.

Typically, the arrest of a vessel will relate to financial or legal claims against the owner or operator. Debts are a common reason for vessel arrest. When an individual or business owns money to someone else and doesn’t make payments or when they are subject to a judgment from a lawsuit, their vessel could serve as collateral for the money they owe.

The seizure of a maritime vessel serves several purposes

The courts may order the arrest of a vessel to compel the repayment of a debt or for the duration of the court case. An arrested vessel is effectively seized and is inaccessible and unusable by the owner.

Arresting a vessel prevents an individual from fleeing to avoid penalties or from moving the vessel to avoid collection efforts. It can also serve as a powerful incentive for someone to address debts and recent lawsuits. Only by remedying the legal issue that led to the arrests or paying the debt involved will the owner or operator secure the release of the vessel in the ability to continue operating it as they once did.

Learning more about maritime vessel arrests can help those who operate maritime businesses and those trying to enforce the debt or pursue a lawsuit against the maritime business.