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Admiralty Law Application to Offshore Operations

Robert B. Acomb, Jr., Offshore Exploration, Drilling and Development (1975)

Maritime law is a body of law that traces its origins far back into history. It has existed since the commencement of commercial intercourse on the water. Many early codes of law contain maritime law rules and regulations such as the laws of Oleron which were promulgated in 1150 A.D., and some maritime rules that originated in early Phoenician codes are still viable today.

When oil exploration departed land and moved offshore it suddenly found its operations subject to a new body of law that was sometime different from the rules that it had been subject to ashore. Equipment lease agreements were referred to as “bareboat charters” and its employees were now considered “seamen” in addition to being “drillers, roustabouts or toolpushers”. The impact of maritime law upon the oil industry can be described as the immovable object meeting the irresistible force, with neither being completely the same afterwards. The industry has adapted to the new rules and, in many instances, has imposed its [11-2] will and obtained a change in the existing maritime law. This paper will review many of the problems encountered in offshore oil activities which may be considered maritime in nature.

In 1947 the first offshore oil well was drilled in the Gulf of Mexico and since then the exploration for oil has produced a large magnitude of oil and also has spawned maritime litigation i