Maritime attachment is a characteristic feature of the general maritime law.[i] The maritime lien differs from other liens in that it is entirely independent of possession, non-consentual, and is not to be extinguished by transfer to a bona fide purchaser without notice of its existence. A court of admiralty will not automatically enforce an independent equitable claim merely because it pertains to maritime property.
There is a twofold rationale underlying maritime attachment. The first rationale is that an attachment provides a means to assure satisfaction to the claimant if a suit is successful. The second purpose of maritime attachment is to insure a respondent’s appearance in an action, or in other words to obtain respondent’s in personam jurisdiction through his/her property, which is vital for the plaintiff’s substantive right to recover.[ii]
Attachment vests the court with quasi-in-rem jurisdiction, and the value of the property attached determines the effective limits of a judgment for the plaintiff.[iii] Hence, courts do not issue maritime attachment where the defendant is already subject to in personam jurisdiction if such an attachment was sought solely to obtain security. Also, courts will not permit maritime attachment where valid quasi in rem jurisdiction has already attached to one property and in such a scenario, the plaintiff is prohibited from abandoning that action obtain attachment of a more valuable property.
[i] Aurora Maritime Co. v. Abdullah Mohamed Fahem & Co., 85 F.3d 44, 48 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1996)
[ii] Chilean Line Inc. v. United States, 344 F.2d 757, 760 (2d Cir. 1965). Seawind Compania, S. A. v. Crescent Line, Inc., 320 F.2d 580, 582 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1963).
[iii] Robinson v. O. F. Shearer & Sons, Inc., 429 F.2d 83, 86 (3d Cir. Pa. 1970)