The nightmare of every vessel owner is to have their ship arrested, impounded or sold at an auction to satisfy a lien against it. Typically, if you are aware of a lien on your property, you can hire an attorney immediately and prepare to defend it against other people’s claims. But what if you don’t know that a lien has attached to your vessel?
Maritime liens can attach in secret
United States law provides for the ability to attach a maritime lien to a vessel. If a company provides a service to your vessel, they can establish a lien on it, and they can bring a lawsuit to enforce that lien.
The difference between maritime liens and most other types of liens is that maritime liens don’t require your consent to be valid. In fact, they don’t even require the holder of the lien to record them or give notice at all in order to establish them – they are automatically valid by law.
In other words, if you accept a service for your vessel, the provider of that service automatically has a lien against your vessel that they can enforce if you don’t pay. And since the service provider doesn’t need to record them, there’s no surefire way to determine whether your vessel is lien-free or not until you’ve paid everything you owe to the service provider.
Preferred ship mortgages are different
Unlike a regular maritime lien, the law requires a holder of a preferred ship mortgage to record it. This is a mortgage that you can use to secure a loan for the purchase of a vessel that is over 26 feet in length.
These mortgages are documented with the United States Coast Guard, and thus – unlike a maritime lien – you can look them up and verify them. This is important for when you are considering purchasing a vessel.
Maritime law can be complex, and the enforcement of liens in court can get messy. With the help of an experienced maritime attorney, you can navigate the process of ensuring that your vessel isn’t anchored down by maritime liens.