Have a question about how to use the law in your story? Need a character, plot twist or setting? Ask me in the comments section and I'll be glad to answer. I welcome all comments and questions.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

If You’re Writing About Sunken Treasure Hunting, You’re Using Admiralty Law

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.


Unknown said...

Wow, you learn something new every day. I didn't know. I guess I never wondered, but I should have. How do they make a law that covers people in different countries? I'm only curious. Is admiralty law agreed on by all countries?

Donna Ballman said...

It's mostly by treaty Draven. Sometimes countries don't agree on which waters are theirs and which are international. Sometimes they don't agree on who owns what when it's found in international waters. Then there are court cases and lots of lawyers involved. This stuff can go on for years.