I got really excited about this article because when I teach about using the law in writing I always challenge people to tell me why admiralty law can be pretty exciting. They look at me with blank stares, because it sounds deadly dull, doesn’t it? But admiralty is more than cruise ship accidents. That’s because admiralty law covers anyone who finds or is hunting for sunken treasure.
In the article, a group of treasure hunters called the Black Swan Project found over $500 million in treasure on the ocean floor. Most writers assume that the law is “finders keepers” but it’s way more complicated than that. In this case, Spain made a claim on the treasure because they were the original ship owners. Peru says Spain stole the treasure and they want it. Now a researcher whose research was used to find the ship has made a claim on the loot too. So far, the courts are letting him proceed with his claim.
The law of salvage is what governs the claim to the loot once it’s found, and the law is complicated. So never assume that your treasure hunting character will end up rich if they find that pot of gold.
In The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom, I talk about admiralty law and admiralty lawyers in more detail. I think admiralty lawyers make great characters. Maybe your treasure hunter has a lawyer on retainer. Or maybe the insurance company who insured the sunken ship has their own admiralty lawyer come after your character.
However you handle it, make sure you get it right.