Maritime salvage and towing operators resort to trickery, collecting big bucks in salvage claims

By Juan Rojas

As the president of charter yacht company, I own a number of yachts and boats at two of the largest marinas in Miami. Our knowledgeable captains, crew, and staff work hard to provide our clients with a memorable experience each time they reserve one of our luxury yachts. And to ensure an exceptional and worry-free experience, we have established agreements with local maritime salvage and towing companies – just in case.

We initiated memberships with these companies to safeguard our vessels in case they encounter any minor issues or, in the worst case, an emergency situation. Recently, however, these salvors have taken advantage of my captains’ trust in their services.

A few months ago, for instance, one of my captains was in charge of a chartered 43-foot Marquis Yacht when he experienced issues with the vessel’s bilge and strainer. Following protocol, the captain notified a local maritime salvage and towing company to help drain the water from the bilge. This vessel was safely anchored and not in peril, but because we had an existing agreement with the company, the captain called for assistance.

The maritime salvage and towing operators arrived and quickly emptied the water from the bilge. The service took around 15 minutes and the charter was back out on the water in no time. The salvors never stepped foot on the vessel and simply asked the captain to sign a form agreeing to the service. However, we were later informed that the document the salvor had handed to the captain was a salvage agreement – and as a result the company billed us $35,000, claiming the services done on the yacht amounted to a salvage.

We refused to pay the bill and hired legal support. In December, the salvors returned to seize the vessel, with a claim of $150,000. Having been in the boating industry for many years, I was shocked by the trickery and schemes of this maritime salvage and towing company. The judge in our case even called the salvage operators ‘modern-day pirates.’

After speaking with a friend about my situation, I soon realized that this is a common complaint in Florida. There are hundreds of examples of boaters receiving assistance on the water when they believed they were covered under a membership – only to later be socked with an unexpectedly large bill. They charged me $35,000, but I don’t believe anyone should be charged such outrageous fees without knowing the true costs beforehand.

My situation, like many others, was not a matter of life or death. It was a common scenario, and my vessel received a quick and simple service. Right now, it seems, parts of the salvage industry suffer from a complete lack of transparency. That is why I fully support legislation that will provide Florida’s boaters with reasonable consumer protections, so that boaters are aware of the potential costs before any services are rendered. Everyone deserves the right to make an informed decision.