Admiralty law (or maritime law) is a body of law that governs nautical issues and private maritime disputes. Admiralty law comprises both domestic law on maritime activities, and private international law governing the relationships between private parties operating or using ocean-going ships. While each legal jurisdiction usually has its own legislation governing maritime matters, the international nature of the topic and the need for uniformity has, since 1900, led to considerable international maritime law developments, including numerous multilateral treaties.
Matters dealt by admiralty law include marine commerce, marine navigation, salvage, maritime pollution, seafarers’ rights, and the carriage by sea of both passengers and goods. Admiralty law also covers land-based commercial activities that are maritime in character, such as marine insurance. Some lawyers prefer to reserve the term “admiralty law” for “wet law” (e.g. salvage, collisions, ship arrest, towage, liens, & limitation), and use “maritime law” only for “dry law” (e.g. carriage of goods & people, marine insurance, and the MLC).
Admiralty law may be distinguished from the Law of the Sea, which is a body of public international law dealing with navigational rights, mineral rights, jurisdiction over coastal waters, and the maritime relationships between nations. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has been adopted by 167 countries and the European Union, and disputes are resolved at the ITLOS tribunal in Hamburg.