The terms admiralty and maritime jurisdiction extend to all activities done upon and relating to the sea; to transactions relating to commerce and navigation; to damages and injuries upon the sea; and to all maritime contracts, torts and injuries. If the services or contract properly concern the ship and her owners, they are clearly maritime. Employees whose services are generally rendered as maritime are:
- Fishermen on board a vessel; and
- Watchmen on vessels.
The term seamen include masters, pilots, cooks, carpenters, stewards and surgeons. Although, a watchman’s services in a vessel are considered as maritime, a watchman’s services that are in no way connected with the navigation of a vessel are non-maritime. Services rendered in construction are not maritime, although services rendered in the repair of a ship are maritime.
In order to establish admiralty jurisdiction in maritime service the question to be determined is whether the claimant was employed in maritime service at the time of the accident. Additionally, the employment should have direct relation to navigation. Longshoring and ship repair are generally classified by U.S.Supreme Court as traditional maritime activities. Moreover, membership in a particular union is not essential in determining the exclusivity of jurisdiction under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.[i] An employee whose primary purpose in being on board, if not to aid or facilitate the navigation of the vessel cannot make a maritime claim.[ii]
Admiralty jurisdiction in maritime services is restricted to contracts, claims, and services which are purely maritime. For a contract to be a maritime contract, the contract should concern to transportation by sea; relate to navigation or maritime employment; or be a contract of navigation and commerce on navigable waters. Contracts for building a ship, or contracts for selling a ship, are not maritime contracts within the jurisdiction of the admiralty. Thus, jurisdiction of the admiralty courts is restricted to maritime subjects only.[iii]
Federal District Courts have maritime jurisdiction over seamens’ wages claims. However, the Court of Claims has jurisdiction over federal employees’ admiralty matters. A stevedore’s contract of employment comes under maritime contract.[iv]. Moreover, an action for injury sustained by a stevedore aboard a vessel in navigable waters is within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the federal courts.[v] Additionally, stevedores are, also entitled to protection against unseaworthiness while performing ship’s service.
[i]Uphold v. Ill. Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, 385 Ill. App. 3d 567 (Ill. App. Ct. 5th Dist. 2008).
[ii]Smrekar v. Bay & River Navigation Co., 69 Cal. App. 2d 654 (Cal. App. 1945).
[iii]Grand Banks Fishing Co. v. Styron, 114 F. Supp. 1 (D. Me. 1953).
[iv]Atlantic Transport Co. v. Imbrovek, 225 U.S. 700 (U.S. 1912)
[v]Swanson v. Marra Bros., Inc., 57 F. Supp. 456 (D. Pa. 1944).