Maritime Disasters and law

While the Titanic is definitely the most famous maritime disaster it is actually not the largest one in the sad history of maritime disasters. Canada also holds a sad record in this history. The infamous Halifax explosion that devastated the city of Halifax, is currently the largest non-nuclear man-made accidental explosion in the history of mankind with the highest death doll of about 2,000 people killed and estimated over 9,000 people were injured. While many people say that maritime disasters are one of the most dangerous, the Halifax Explosion is the one that shows how dangerous they can really be. The tragedy occurred on December 6, 1917 at the time of the First World War. The SS Mont-Blanc, a cargo ship that was chartered by the government to carry munitions to Europe collided with unloaded Norwegian ship Imo, chartered by the Commission for Relief in Belgium to carry relief supplies. While Imo was unloaded at the moment, the SS Mont-Blanc was fully loaded with wartime explosives. The collision itself occurred at 8.40, at 8.50 Mont-Blanc caught fire, drifted toward the peers and exploded fifteen minutes later. The explosion was equivalent to roughly 3 kilotons of TNT, which is actually one fifth of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which had estimated power of 15 kilotons. The fireball rose over 1.2 miles into the air and the explosion obliterated all the buildings and structures within 2 square kilometers including buildings in the communities of Richmond and Dartmouth. The explosion also caused an 18 meter high tsunami that covered the harbor. It is impossible to tell what the reason of the explosion was, most probably it was criminal negligence be the crew members of one of the ships. Like many other disasters this one has a very good ground for investigation and even trial, but the devastating power of the explosion was so huge that there is literally no one left to sue.

As for the legal side of such navigation problems as the Halifax explosion, it would be regulated by the Canadian criminal code, because it occurred in the Canadian waters. As for the Maritime Laws in general there are two types of law – Admiralty Law (Maritime Law) and Law of the Sea. The Admiralty Law is a distinct body of law which governs maritime questions and offenses. Because the ships that roam the oceans and seas can belong to various companies and countries this law is a body of both domestic law governing maritime activities, and private international law governing the relationships between private entities which operate vessels on the oceans. The main matters that it deals with are: marine commerce, marine navigation, shipping, sailors, the transportation of passengers and goods by sea and also a number of land based commercial activities that are maritime in character. The Law of the Sea is a body of public international law and has another scope of problems. It is dealing with navigational rights, mineral rights, and jurisdiction over coastal waters and international law governing relationships between nations.

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