Drifting without a crew: salvage or emergency towing?

When a vessel is drifting without control and its crew abandons it after making a mayday call, there is an intuitive judicial presumption that the vessel is in danger. Nevertheless, this presumption is rebuttable, allowing for evidence to the contrary to be presented. For the contrary (counter-intuitive) evidence to be accepted, it is necessary to evaluate the entire circumstances of the case to accurately assess the point at which the situation can be classified as “salvage” (s358 Maritime Navigation Act 2013) rather than “emergency towing” (s305 Maritime Navigation Act 2013).

A vessel without engine, drifting, making a mayday call, abandoned or evacuated by its crew, constitutes a scenario that many would automatically classify as a classic case of maritime salvage. This article attempts to provide a counter-intuitive vision that questions and refines the automatic assumption and calls for an analysis of the situation of danger of the vessel.