THE MARITIME LAW ASSOCIATION
of the UNITED STATES:
ITS HISTORY, PURPOSES, ORGANIZATION AND ACTIVITIES
The Maritime Law Association of the United States (MLA) was founded in 1899. Its formation was prompted by the organization, some three years earlier, of the International Maritime Committee, better known by its name in French, Comité Maritime International (CMI).
After more than ninety years, the MLA was incorporated in 1993. Its purposes are best expressed in Article 4 of its then adopted Articles of Incorporation, as follows:
The objectives of the Association shall be to advance reforms in the Maritime Law of the United States, to facilitate justice in its administration, to promote uniformity in its enactment and interpretation, to furnish a forum for the discussion and consideration of problems affecting the Maritime Law and its administration, to participate as a constituent member of the Comité Maritime International and as an affiliated organization of the American Bar Association, and to act with other associations in efforts to bring about a greater harmony in the shipping laws, regulations and practices of different nations.
The MLA’s Committees and the Association as a whole meet in the spring and fall of each year. The on-going, year-round work is accomplished by the Committees and by the Officers, the immediate Past President and twelve other members of the Board of Directors, who govern the Association, subject always to the will of the Membership as expressed at its semi-annual general meetings. Through its Committees, the MLA keeps abreast of federal and state judicial decisions, legislation, and regulations in the maritime area. Many of the Committee meetings provide CLE credit for those attending.
The Association is not a lobbying or special interest organization: Virtually all groups involved in maritime activities, including cargo interests, personnel, vessel owners and operators, stevedores and marine terminals, offshore industries, marine insurers, marine lenders, and government agencies are represented in the Association, united by their concern with maritime law in all its facets and its fair and efficient operation for all elements of the industry.
The fall meetings of the Association are alternately held at resorts and cities where the Association has a large number of members. At these meetings, there are not only full-scale meetings of the Standing and Special Committees but also accredited CLE presentations.
The MLA membership consists of lawyers involved in maritime matters, judges active in matters involving admiralty issues, admiralty law professors, and non-lawyers who are selected because they hold responsible positions in the maritime field and have rendered distinguished service in the advancement of maritime law or its administration. The Association publishes this comprehensive Directory containing its By-Laws, a membership list, and other information of interest to those concerned with maritime law, and this information is also made available online on the MLA website at www.mlaus.org.
The MLA is a professional organization concerned with improvements in the maritime law, which stands ready to be of help to those interested in this area of law. The advantages of membership in the MLA include the opportunities to meet and consult with other practitioners in the field, to receive Committee reports and other documents concerning pertinent developments, to participate in discussion of problems and issues with others who have similar interests, and to continue a long tradition of collegiality in the practice of admiralty law. Membership in the Association is open to any person admitted to the practice of law before any of the several courts of the United States and who is interested in the objectives of the Association. There are nine classes of membership: Ex Officio, Honorary, Life, Judicial, Academic, Proctor in Admiralty, Associate Lawyer, Non-Lawyer, and Law Student. The By-Laws of the Association were amended in 1981 so that attorneys are usually first admitted to membership as Associate Lawyer members and are not eligible to become Proctors in Admiralty, the highest membership category for practicing lawyers, until four years later and even then only after having met stringent professional and educational requirements to the satisfaction of the Committee on Proctor Admissions.
The designation “Proctor in Admiralty” is of ancient origin and applied to lawyers entitled to handle maritime litigation. The word “Proctor” was derived from the Roman word “Procurator,” which was translated into English as “Proctor” when the Admiralty Courts were set up in England in the 13th century with jurisdiction over disputes within the Royal Navy as well as purely commercial maritime matters. The designation was continued in the American colonies and, until recently, in our federal court system. Though no longer in official usage, “Proctor” was deemed appropriate for use in our Association to designate the most distinguished class of membership for practicing maritime attorneys.
The MLA is an Affiliated Organization of the American Bar Association and is represented in the ABA House of Delegates. The ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, adopted by the ABA House of Delegates on August 2, 1983, recognize that lawyers engaged in the practice of admiralty may be described by such designations as “Proctor in Admiralty” acknowledging the long historical tradition associating maritime commerce and the federal courts, and recognizing admiralty and maritime practice as a unique field of law.
Because the MLA’s work has become so well-known, its views are frequently sought by Congress and government agencies. The Association’s positions are officially expressed from time to time, but such expressions are subject to strict control.
The MLA has also been very influential in the development of international maritime rules and conventions. The Association’s first notable action in the international sphere was recommending, in 1912, that the CMI consider formulating rules governing carriage of goods under ocean bills of lading. The MLA then played a major role in drafting the Convention and legislation embodying those rules. In 1921, at a meeting held in The Hague, the International Law Association approved a set of rules formulated by the CMI, based on the U.S. Harter Act of 1893, with several significant differences. The rules, which became known as The Hague Rules, were originally intended for incorporation in bills of lading, in the same way that the York-Antwerp General Average Rules are incorporated. However, it was soon decided that they should be adopted as an international convention. The Rules were amended by the CMI at a meeting in London in 1922, and then submitted to the Diplomatic Conference on Maritime Law, which had been established by the Belgian Government in 1905. The Rules were adopted in 1924 as an International Convention which entered into force in 1931, and has been in force ever since.
Members of the MLA were highly instrumental in persuading Congress to enact the Carriage of Goods Act of 1936, which is in almost all respects identical to the Convention, and in obtaining the Senate’s advice and consent to ratification of the Convention in 1937.
Unfortunately, despite MLA support for many, if not most of the conventions drafted by the CMI, the U.S. Government’s record for ratifying them has been poor. In addition to the Salvage Convention of 1910 and the Hague Rules Convention of 1924, the only CMI convention the United States has ratified is the Salvage Convention of 1989 which was drafted at the CMI’s Montreal Conference in 1981 and submitted to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which sponsored its adoption at a diplomatic conference. The United States was, in fact, one of the very first countries to ratify it.
The Association is connected with or interacts with a number of international organizations (usually identified by acronyms):
CMI. The Comité Maritime International (CMI) was established in 1897 in Antwerp as a committee of the International Law Association. Its constituent members are, like the MLA, the maritime law associations of their respective nations. The CMI has been a driving force and active participant in the preparation and adoption of numerous important international maritime conventions including, inter alia, the 1924 Hague Rules and the Protocols thereto of 1968 (Visby Rules) and 1979 (The Visby SDR Protocol), and the 1957 International Convention on Limitation of Liability of Owners of Seagoing Vessels. It is also the originator and “Trustee” of the 1974, 1990 and 1994 York-Antwerp Rules. CMI’s website is www.comitemaritime.org.
IMO. The International Maritime Organization (IMO), formerly named the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO), is an agency of the United Nations headquartered in London. Originally formed in 1948, its purpose is to provide a forum for cooperation among governments in the regulation of international shipping, and to encourage and facilitate the adoption of the highest standards in matters concerning maritime safety, navigation, and prevention and control of marine pollution from ships. It functions through a number of committees including a Marine Safety Committee, a Marine Environment Protection Committee, and a Legal Committee. It is the IMO Legal Committee with which the MLA has the most contact. Members of the MLA have served on a regular basis as private sector advisors to the U.S. Delegation to the Legal Committee for a numbers of years. Today, IMO is the primary promulgator of international conventions concerning marine safety and navigation, including the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from ships (MARPOL 73/78), and a number of other legal conventions concerning liability and compensation issues. Most recently, the IMO has adopted a Protocol to the 1974 Athens Convention Relating to the Carriage of Passengers and Their Luggage by Sea. The website of the IMO is www.imo.org.
UNCTAD. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), another agency of the United Nations, was formed in 1965 and is headquartered in Geneva. Its purpose is to promote international trade, especially among emerging nations. It serves as a focal point within the United Nations for integrated investment and sustainable development. It was highly influential in promoting the 1978 Hamburg Rules, the legal drafting and adoption of which were taken over by UNCITRAL. It has also collaborated with the IMO in the drafting and promulgation of the 1993 International Convention of Maritime Liens and Mortgages and the 1999 International Convention on the Arrest of Ships. UNCTAD’s website is www.unctad.org.
UNCITRAL. The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) like UNCTAD is an agency of the United Nations. It was established by a United Nations General Assembly resolution in 1966 and is headquartered in Vienna. Its aim is to harmonize and unify international trade law. It was responsible for the preparation of the 1978 Hamburg Rules and the 1985 UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration as well as the 2009 “Rotterdam Rules” on Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea. Over the years the MLA has been actively involved in advising United States Delegations to UNCITRAL. The UNCITRAL website is www.uncitral.org.
UNIDROIT. The International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) is an independent, intergovernmental organization headquartered in Rome. Originally an organ of the League of Nations, after the demise of the League it was reestablished in 1940 on the basis of a multilateral agreement, the UNIDROIT Statute. Its purpose is to study methods for modernizing, harmonizing and coordinating private and, in particular, commercial law as between States and groups of States. It has promulgated, inter alia, conventions on International Financial Leasing and International Factoring as well as a model law on International Commercial Arbitration. Its website is www.unidroit.org.
UNESCO. The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is another agency of the United Nations. It was established in 1945 and is headquartered in Paris. Its main objective is to promote collaboration among nations through education, science, culture, and communication in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, human rights, and fundamental freedoms. Recently, in 2001, the UNESCO general congress adopted a Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage. While the United States is not a member of UNESCO and had no vote in connection with said Convention, when it was prepared by UNESCO’s governmental experts, the U.S. made a strong statement opposing it. In addition, the CMI has indicated that it would not be able to support the convention. The MLA provided substantial input to the U.S. Delegation to the meetings of the UNESCO governmental experts that drafted this convention, and an MLA member served on the
U.S. Delegation at a number of these meetings. UNESCO’s website is www.unesco.org.
Hague Conference on Private International Law. The Hague Conference on Private International Law is an intergovernmental organization founded in 1893 to promote uniformity of private international law. The Conference has drafted many conventions on various subjects of private international law, a number of which are in force in different countries including, among others, the Hague Convention on International Sale of Goods, the Hague Convention on Service of Documents Abroad, and the Hague Convention on Taking of Evidence Abroad. More recently, the Hague Convention concluded and opened for ratification the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements, a project which had been in negotiation for almost 15 years. Despite the title, the Convention requires States Party to grant recognition to and enforcement of decisions reached by courts of another signatory if the dispute was governed by a valid choice of court agreement. At the invitation of the State Department, The MLA provided advice to the U.S. Delegation at conference meetings and has provided comments on its proposed implementation. The website of the Hague Conference is www.hcch.net.
On the domestic front, the MLA has played a vital part in the development of progressive maritime legislation and the improvement of rules governing admiralty practice. Among the statutes drafted or sponsored by the MLA are the Maritime Lien Acts of 1910 and 1920, and amendments of 1988, the Salvage Act (1912), the Death on the High Seas Act (1920), the Act permitting appeals from interlocutory admiralty decrees (now called “judgments”), the maritime provisions of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the Suits in Admiralty Act (1920), the Public Vessels Act (1925), the Extension of Admiralty Jurisdiction Act, the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (COGSA), the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (1927) and Amendments of 1972 and 1984, the Jones Act (1920), the Inland Rules Act (1981), the 1972 International Collision Regulations, the Amendment to the Limitation of Liability Act increasing the fund available to death and injury claimants, and the 1980 Statute of Limitations on personal injury and death claims.
Several MLA members played key roles as members of the United States Delegation to the UNCITRAL drafting group. UNCITRAL completed its draft Convention in December 2007 and the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Convention on Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea during its October 2008 session in New York. A formal signing ceremony was subsequently hosted at Rotterdam on September 23, 2009 at which twenty-one countries, including the United States, signed their intent to obtain ratification of the Convention, which would be known as the “Rotterdam Rules.”
In the United States, several organizations including the MLA and the ABA, issued proclamations signaling their support for the Rotterdam Rules. The Department of State is now in the process of requesting the President to seek the Senate’s advice and consent for ratification.
The MLA was a leader in the 1966 merger of the former General Admiralty Rules of the Supreme Court and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Association’s Committee on Practice and Procedure worked closely with the Government’s Advisory Committee, which included several senior members of the MLA. The Association was largely responsible for preserving the essential features of admiralty arrest and attachment as well as possessory, petitory, and partition actions.
The Association also had much to do with the successful defense of the time-honored admiralty arrest and attachment procedures against Constitutional attack. In a rare case, Circuit Judge John R. Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, recognizing the stature of the MLA, permitted our then MLA President to argue an appeal on behalf of MLA as amicus curiae in support of the constitutionality of maritime arrest. The outcome was successful, and the decision (two to one) has been since then repeatedly cited as precedent in other cases around the country involving the constitutionality of maritime arrest and attachment.
In order to facilitate the more visible domestic and international activities of the MLA as described above, our several standing committees study, discuss, and analyze developments in the law affecting each committee’s particular area of interest, and often prepare and distribute reports or newsletters. More particularly, the activities of these standing committees, which have been realigned to reflect changes in the industry and in the practice of admiralty law, include:
Committee on Arbitration and ADR
Reviews current developments in arbitration and mediation in the United States and abroad; analyzes the effect of domestic legislation and international law on arbitration practice; encourages increased utilization of alternative dispute resolution methods in maritime contexts; has proposed mediation guidelines; maintains a close relationship with the Society of Maritime Arbitrators.
Committee on Carriage of Goods
Studies court decisions and regimes of law covering the allocation of risks in transporting cargo by sea, including, e.g., the Hague Rules and 1968 Visby Amendments drafted by the Comité Maritime International, the 1978 Hamburg Rules Convention, and a proposed international convention covering multimodal transport; drafted a proposed act to reform COGSA approved by the Association; tracks developments in all subjects related to transport, including bills of lading, letters of indemnity, and e-commerce; has Subcommittees on Cargo Liability and Shipping Documents; publishes a newsletter on current developments.
Committee on Cruise Lines and Passenger Ships
Reviews and analyzes legal and practical developments in the cruise line industry; monitors and reports on governmental regulations and their impact; serves as a forum for all segments of the industry; and provides educational functions through a Committee newsletter, discussion groups, presentations, and meetings.
Committee on Fisheries
Serves as a forum for monitoring maritime law issues as they impact the fishing industry; while keeping the MLA membership up-to-date on legal developments in this important segment of U.S. maritime commerce, the Fisheries Committee also considers proposals for change in the statutes and regulations affecting the fishing industry.
Committee on Inland Waters and Towing
Provides a forum for all aspects of the inland waters practice, including the rivers and Great Lakes, as well as America’s Marine Highway and all aspects of the towing industry, including inland towing, ocean towing, ship assist, and docking.
Committee on International Organizations, Conventions and Standards
Tracks developments in international law, helps coordinate MLA participation in international organizations and in drafting conventions; has Subcommittees on Classification Societies, Comité Maritime International, and International Law of the Sea.
Committee on Marine Ecology and Maritime Criminal Law
Reviews legal and practical developments at the international, national, and state levels affecting liabilities arising from damage to the environment; assists in formulating Association comments to governmental organizations involved in this area; promotes uniformity; educates the membership about novel problems, including issues of criminal procedure, presented by greater scrutiny of operations affecting the environment.
Committee on Marine Financing
Monitors legal developments, proposes and comments on legislation and regulation, and conducts education projects that cover all aspects of vessel financing, including ship mortgages, maritime liens, foreclosures and bankruptcy, vessel documentation, cabotage, and taxation. Subcommittees include Maritime Liens and Mortgages (a joint subcommittee with the Practice and Procedure Committee), Coast Guard Documentation, U.S. Citizenship and Related Matters, and Yacht Financing.
Committee on Marine Insurance and General Average
Monitors legal and practical developments in this area; considers the necessity and desirability of changes in the law and practice; keeps the Association informed of current developments in underwriting, claims handling, antitrust considerations, international, federal, and state legislation and regulation, general average rules, and practices and relationships between adjusters and attorneys; has prepared comprehensive annotations of marine policies; has Subcommittees directed specifically to Cargo Insurance, General Average, and Hull and P & I Insurance.
Committee on Marine Torts and Casualties
Monitors substantive and procedural legal issues arising from all kinds of marine casualties, including collisions, personal injuries, and death; follows developments in all aspects of maritime law which affect liabilities arising from casualties, including exoneration from or limitation of liability and claimants’ rights to file claims; advises of developments affecting rights of injured maritime personnel.
Committee on Maritime Bankruptcy and Insolvency
Reviews, monitors and reports on legal developments concerning the interplay of maritime and bankruptcy jurisdiction; studies the effects of bankruptcy on the enforcement of mortgage liens and maritime liens and remedies; monitors and comments on the effect of proposed changes to the U.S. bankruptcy code and rules as they pertain to maritime rights, remedies and financing structures; monitors shipping bankruptcies and related cross-border insolvency issues and reports to the Association on developments and trends; and considers and reports on matters unique to the restructuring and workout of debt structures in shipping.
Committee on Offshore Industries
Reviews, discusses, and reports on all matters related to maritime operations in the domestic offshore industries, including federal and state jurisprudence, administrative law, legislation, and regulations from U.S. Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, Customs, Minerals Management Service, Maritime Administration, National Transportation Safety Board, the Labor Department, and state and local
Committee on Practice and Procedure
Studies developments involving existing rules and statutes governing maritime practice and advocates changes to these laws to improve efficiency of litigation and enhance consistency among jurisdictions; has developed Model Local Admiralty Rules adopted by a number of federal courts; comments on proposed changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Supplemental Admiralty Rules and assists in the process of their development to ensure harmony with admiralty practice; assisted in adoption of changes to federal rules and statutes addressing the right of interlocutory appeal, admissibility of Coast Guard marine casualty reports, and forfeiture proceedings; has Subcommittees on Federal Rules and Statutes, and Local Admiralty Rules, and a Joint Subcommittee on Maritime Liens.
Committee on Recreational Boating
Treats issues relating to increased use of pleasure craft and studies the impact legislation and judicial decisions directed to recreational vessels may have on maritime commerce and other areas of maritime law, such as jurisdiction and damages for personal injury; has drafted model uniform safe boating legislation so as to minimize proliferation of disparate state laws; has Subcommittees on Offshore Affairs and State Legislation.
Committee on Regulation of Vessel Operations, Safety, Security and Navigation
Helps draft proposed legislation and comments on pending bills and regulations affecting navigation, safety, and other aspects of the maritime industries, particularly carriers and shipowners; coordinates MLA liaisons to government agencies including Coast Guard and FMC; has formulated Association comments on revisions to Title 46.
Committee on Salvage
Advises the Association of international and domestic legal developments concerning commercial salvage, treasure salvage, and related marine insurance issues; assists in formulating Association policy on emerging issues such as the UNESCO Convention on Underwater Cultural Heritage, Salvage Convention, and Places of Refuge; was active in promoting government action on international salvage conventions.
Committee on Stevedores, Marine Terminals, and Vessel Services
Provides a forum for those involved in industries that supply goods and services to vessels, including stevedores, terminal operators, freight forwarders, shipbuilders and repairers, marine surveyors, and ship chandlers; monitors regulation and licensing by the Federal Maritime Commission and developments concerning maritime supply liens, facility security, Himalaya clause issues, warranties of workmanlike performance, customs and duty regulations, and foreign trade zones.
Committee on Uniformity of U.S. Maritime Law
Identifies and alerts the Board to legal decisions that give rise to decisional conflicts among the United States Circuit Courts of Appeals and district courts. The Committee also identifies and monitors significant State court decisions which may conflict with well-established principles of federal maritime law. At the request of the MLA President, it may be called upon to provide research and legal analysis to assist the Board in considering requests for amicus curiae participation by the MLA. The Committee offers CLE credit for attendance at its meetings at which members discuss recent developments in maritime law.
Young Lawyers Committee
Assists the MLA Standing Committees by providing valuable time and energy for Standing Committee projects. Contributions of the YLC have included research, writing, and speaking on diverse subjects pertaining to the MLA and maritime law in general. The involvement of the YLC in MLA Standing Committees has helped introduce the Young Lawyer members to the members and goals of the Association, the workings of the Standing Committees, and to prepare the Young Lawyer members for leadership roles in the Association. In many cases, YLC members have been appointed as officers of the various Standing Committees. Membership in the Young Lawyers Committee is open to lawyers under 40, new members to the Maritime Law Association, and those who are young at heart. Membership on the Young Lawyers Committee shall not prevent a member from serving on three (3) additional Standing Committees.
The foregoing description of the Association’s work is not intended to be exhaustive. The MLA also functions through Special Board Liaison Committees and Special Committees appointed by the president. Special committees are formed as needs arise to meet the challenges faced in the practice of maritime law and to provide assistance to the Membership as well as to strengthen the MLA in our second century of existence. As with any organization the success of its being is the activity and interest of its members. Examples are as follows:
Ad Hoc Committee on United States Coast Guard Relations
The Coast Guard/MLA Forum was formed in 2008 at the invitation of USCG RADM Baumgartner in order to enable a free exchange of ideas between industry and the government about how the Coast Guard can accomplish its missions with the minimum burden on commerce and seafarers. The Forum is composed of Association members appointed by the MLA President and delegates designated by the Coast Guard. While the Forum is not intended to be a substitute for Standing Committee activities or individual complaints through existing government channels, both MLA Committees and individual MLA members are encouraged to identify issues and problems for the Forum by contacting any of the MLA Forum members. This system is designed to permit issues to be raised anonymously, if desired, so that even the most sensitive matters can be discussed with candor.
American Bar Association Relations
The MLA Chair of this committee represents the MLA in the ABA’s House of Delegates. The Committee meets annually in New York City, and as needed otherwise, as to MLA/ABA matters.
Continuing Legal Education
The MLA is accredited by the New York State Continuing Legal Education Board as a provider of continuing legal education (CLE) to attorneys admitted to the New York Bar. The MLA CLE Committee oversees the MLA’s New York CLE accreditation. This involves advising other MLA Committees and external CLE co-sponsors on the requirements and procedures for ensuring that MLA sponsored and co-sponsored CLE programs are worthy of CLE credit. To qualify for CLE credit in New York, a program must cover appropriate legal topics; provide its attendees with written papers prepared by the speakers; speakers’ biographies; certificates of attendance; course evaluations; and sign-in sheets. Any MLA Committee or other organization wishing to obtain CLE credit for a program through the MLA is requested to contact the MLA CLE Committee Chair for a more complete description of the procedures required to obtain CLE credit.
The Committee screens applicants for Proctor Membership in the Association to insure, so far as possible, they meet the requirements for such as set forth in the By-Laws of the Association. It is comprised of Proctor members from various geographical locations of the United States, giving particular heed to port cities and other areas which would be involved with Admiralty and Maritime matters. Applications for Proctor Membership are initially submitted to the Membership Secretary who screens the application to check that the basic criteria as set forth in the By-Laws and stated in the application have been met. The List of applicants is then passed on to the Committee members, via the Chairman, for further screening, particularly as to knowledge, experience, reputation, etc. in the field of Admiralty Law. The geographical spread of the Committee assists in affording the opportunity of consideration of an applicant, so far as possible, by at least one Proctor Member from or near the applicant’s area. The Committee votes on its recommendation to accept each candidate and the Committee’s recommendations are given to the Membership Secretary for submission to the President and Board of Directors for final approval.