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III. The Concept of Peril

It is well settled that the peril necessary to constitute a salvage service need not be one of "imminent and absolute danger." It is enough that the property is in danger, either presently or to be reasonably apprehended. It is important to note that it is not the degree of peril which makes for salvage service. If distress or peril is present then, accompanied by voluntary service and success, a valid salvage service has been performed, entitling the salvor to a salvage award. The degree of peril, whether slight, moderate, or severe, affects only the amount of the award, but not the entitlement of the salvor to a salvage award.

It is also the well settled admiralty law of the United States that a vessel driven aground, on rocks, on shoals, or on reefs, must be considered to be in a state of peril. In such a situation, the vessel is exposed to the vagaries of wind, weather and waves, and it does not require extensive seagoing experience or contemplation to consider that so long as the vessel remains in that helpless situation, without further assistance, she is subject to further damage and eventual breaking up or sinking. This proposition was well-stated by the court in De Aldamiz v. Thomas Skogland & Sons , to the effect that "[i]t is idle to argue that a ship aground in shallow water on a sea beach, exposed to wind and waves in the hurricane season, is in a safe place."

The U.S. district Court for the Western District of Washington summarized what constitutes a maritime peril very nicely in the case of McNabb v. O.S. BOWFIN , as follows:

To constitute a maritime peril, it is not necessary that the danger be actual or imminent; it is sufficient if, at the time assistance was rendered, the vessel was stranded so that it was subject to the potential danger of damage or destruction. A vessel driven aground on a beach in the area involved must be considered as in a state of peril. Exposed as she is to wind, weather, and waves, it does not require extensive reflection to realize that so long as she remains in such a hapless position, further damage and eventual breaking up may ensue.

It is not necessary that the danger or peril to the vessel be immediate, imminent or absolute. In order to justify a salvage award for salvage services, it is sufficient that if, when such service is rendered, the vessel has encountered danger, misfortune, peril or other circumstances which might expose her to damage or destruction if the services were not rendered. "A situation of actual apprehension, though not of actual danger, is sufficient." Similarly, in the JAMES T. ABBOTT , speaking of a vessel which had been driven ashore, the court stated, "[a] vessel in that situation cannot be considered as not in some unusual peril, not wholly exposed, yet not so safe as she would have been in a harbor."

It should be clear from the foregoing discussion that the concept of peril is very broadly and liberally interpreted. However, peril figures as an element in both the entitlement of a salvor to an award as well as the amount of the award. This often leads to confusion on the part of the inexperienced. The presence of peril in any degree,whether imminent or potential, whether the vessel's damage is slight or non-existent, will support a claim for salvage services. However, the degree of peril, its imminence, and its extent, figure very largely in the amount of the salvage award. Thus, the uninitiated will often argue that because the vessel was not in imminent danger of sinking and suffered no damage that the services rendered were not salvage services. These misconceptions most frequently arise in the context of disabled vessels which are towed into port and when recreational vessels are removed from a grounding.

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