HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When the Japanese-owned cargo ship Serenity Ace caught fire and sent out its mayday on New Year’s Eve, other merchant vessels in the vicinity responded immediately.
Experts said responding to save lives of fellow mariners is a fundamental value at sea, but there are also thousands of years of law that come into play, including the possibility of handsome rewards for the heroism.
Jay Friedheim, maritime attorney in Honolulu, said the law going back to Roman times and contemporary international treaties require vessels to respond to an SOS call, even at some risk to the rescuer.
"It is dangerous, you know you bring a giant ship next to another giant ship that’s on fire and it explodes they both go down so there are real risks“ Friedheim said.
Other cargo vessels managed to save 16 of the 21 crew members, but five who abandoned the vessel have apparently died at sea.
With the rescue portion of the incident concluded, the concern now is for the relatively new ship and its valuable cargo — reported to be about 3,500 Nissan vehicles bound for Honolulu from Japan.
Freidheim told HNN that the vessels that participated could be entitled to rewards in the millions of dollars.
"Its a fundamental principal in law that when you go to render aid you should be compensated for not only the costs but also share into the recovery,” Friedheim said.
If the ship or cargo can be salvaged, a court or mediator would decide the size of the reward, based on the value of the salvage and other factors including how much risk or other costs were incurred by the responding vessels.
If the Serenity Ace is towed to Hawaii, Friedheim said that decision would likely be made in Honolulu’s federal District Court.