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Practice Areas > Commercial Fishing and Workboats

Maritime Liens and Mortgages

Copyright © 2005 Weil & Associates and David Weil, Esq

The cornerstone of a claim against a vessel owner is the maritime lien. A maritime lien is quite different from its familiar land-locked equivalent, and as pointed out by a leading admiralty law treatise, "The beginning of wisdom in the law of maritime liens is that maritime liens and land liens have little in common. A lien is a lien is a lien, but a maritime lien is not."

Maritime liens may be as troublesome to attorneys as they are to boat owners and creditors, so it is important to retain an attorney with experience in enforcing and defending maritime liens and mortgages. The formation, recording, priority, and enforcement of these liens are quite different than for liens that arise under the U.C.C. or other state law.

The characterization of a claim against a vessel as a "maritime lien" is critical to the creditor's claim. The priority of any claim against the vessel is an important consideration, since at the time of foreclosure the value of the claims may exceed the value of the vessel. Maritime liens have a unique set of priority rules that are used when comparing one lien to another, but in any case, all maritime liens have priority over all non-maritime liens. Characterization of a claim as a maritime lien also allows a creditor to use a special foreclosure process, where a Federal Judge issues an Order which directs a Federal Marshal to seize the vessel, without a hearing and before judgment. This "surprise attack" on the vessel allows a creditor to secure its claim before the boat escapes foreclosure by sailing away.


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