33 USC 409, 414, 415, Wreck Statute

These three statutes provide the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with authority to remove wrecks from the navigable waters of the United States.

• 33 USC 409 makes it unlawful to obstruct navigable channels. It sets forth the duty of the owner of a sunken craft to mark and remove it. Failure to do so is considered an abandonment of such craft, subjecting it to removal by the United States.

• 33 USC 414 provides for removal by the Secretary of the Army of sunken wreck obstructing navigation. It contains provisions for notice to the owner and authorizes the Secretary of the Army to contract for removal.

• 33 USC 415 provides for summary removal in emergency cases. When an obstructing vessel or craft seriously interferes with or especially endangers navigation, the Secretary of the Army may take immediate possession of such craft and remove or destroy it and clear the waters of the obstruction.

The Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army, has been successfully operating under the Wreck Statute for more than 80 years in clearing the navigable waters of the United States of obstructions caused by sunken vessels. Removal of wrecks by the Corps of Engineers is generally confined to those considered obstructive to general navigation

The Corps of Engineers has its own contracting authority and some in-house capability for wreck removal. In time-critical situations, the Corps may request Navy assistance and/or obtain assistance under an existing Navy salvage contract.

P.L. 96-387 (94 Stat. 1545) National Defense Features

Authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to equip certain U.S. vessels with national defense features.1

A possible federal assistance mechanism for improving the salvageability of U.S. ships.

Merchant Marine Act of 1936 46 USC 1192 (Construction, Reconstruction, Remodeling)

Authorizes the Maritime Administration to construct, recondition, or remodel vessels in private or public shipyards.

A possible mechanism for strengthening the U.S. salvage fleet

46 USC 1273 (Obligations, Guaranteed Payment)

Authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to guarantee private financing of vessels.1

A possible mechanism for strengthening the U.S. salvage fleet

"Cabotage Law" (Act of 11 June 1940) 46 USC 316

Restricts the activities of foreign tugs and salvage vessels in U.S. navigable waters.

Approval of a high customs official is required in order for foreign salvage vessels to work in coastal waters of the United States.

The effect of the law is to make it very difficult to utilize foreign salvage vessels on a timely basis, even though such assistance may be the only kind available in an emergency.

Coverage may not apply to Alaska or Hawaii.

46 USC 725 Canadian Vessels Aiding Vessels Wrecked or Disabled in U.S. Waters

Authorizes Canadian vessels to render aid or assistance to Canadian or other vessels wrecked or disabled in the waters of the United States contiguous to Canada, and vice versa.

This statute, together With a 1908 treaty, allows Canadian salvors to operate in waters of the United States contiguous to Canada, in return for reciprocal privileges for United States salvors. The Cabotage Law exempts salvage operations authorized by treaty or by 46 USC 725.

Salvage Act of 1912 46 USC 727-731

To harmonize U.S. law with the Salvage Convention of 1910 (Brussels Convention). The convention establishes arrangements governing the conduct of salvage operations and the obtaining of compensation for them.

See the Salvage Convention of 1989.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement