Salvage Convention time limit and recovery of items from wreck

 

The time limit for salvage claims under article 23(1) of the 1989 Salvage Convention article 23(1) is two years commencing on the day on which the salvage operations are terminated. Where items are salved from a historic wreck, when does the two year limit start to run? This was the issue before Teare J. in  The Queen (on the application of David Knight) v Secretary of State for Transport [2017] EWHC 1722 (Admin).

Mr Knight undertook dives from various wrecks and claimed salvage from the Receiver of Wreck. The claim was denied on the ground that the two year limit had expired by the time salvage was claimed in respect of the items raised from the wrecks. Mr Knight argued that salvage operations of a wreck on the sea-bed cannot, as a matter of law, be considered to be finished or complete until everything is raised from the sea-bed or the salvor abandons his operations.

Teare J rejected this contention. The day on which salvage operations are terminated is the day on which the activities to assist a vessel or any other property in danger and which have given rise to a claim under the Convention have been terminated. This was a question of fact to be determined in every case. Here, the salvage operations in question had terminated after the salved items left the site. Although further diving operations on the wrecks continued in subsequent years this was not enough to show that they were part of the same operations as resulted in the recovery of the items for which salvage was claimed. Further preservation work on the items once ashore did not continue the salvage operations which ended once the items were rescued from danger on navigable or other waters.

The claim had also been rejected on the ground of fraud or dishonest conduct on the part of Mr Knight who had been convicted of offences in relation to the salved items under s. 237 of  the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. Teare J was of the view that the discretion under art. 18 to refuse a salvage award in whole or in part due to fraud or dishonest conduct was not limited to conduct committed by the salvor in the actual salvage operations.

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