BOOK REVIEW - THE LAW OF WRECK
Nicholas Gaskell, Barrister, Professor of Maritime and Commercial Law, and Craig Forrest, Professor of Law and Director, both of the Marine and Shipping Law Unit, University of Queensland. Informa Law from Routledge (2019) xcvii and 713 pp, plus 85 pp Appendices and 10 pp Index. Hardback £325.
MARITIME LEGACIES AND THE LAW. Craig Forrest, Professor of Law, Director of Marine and Shipping Law Unit, University of Queensland. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham (2019) xiv and 306 pp, plus 12 pp Index. Hardback £85.
You wait for years for a book about wrecks and then two of them surface together. By its nature, the subject may appear to be something at the tail end of maritime law, as a mopping-up topic with perhaps little left to say. That should not be surprising in a world of safer ships and cleaner seas and with established processes for disposing of ships at the end of their lives. However, the sea continues to be risky and it is also a world in which advances have made it easier, and profitable, to look back to old misfortunes, to consider the bigger picture and to examine more carefully than before the arrangements surrounding casualties and their aftermath. Indeed, it is immediately apparent from the size of Gaskell & Forrest, as we will come to know the bigger book, and even from the more specialist treatment in Professor Forrest’s book on Maritime Legacies, that there is actually quite a lot to say about wrecks.
Gaskell & Forrest takes a broad view of what is encompassed within the law of wreck and is indeed more than a law book. First, the discussion is set within its historical context. This is important, not only to demonstrate how the law originated and has developed from ancient times, but because there is increasing interest in and dealings with historical wrecks.
This overlaps with an internationalist approach. Traditionally, and in terms of subject matter not altogether surprisingly, there has been something of a divide, not infrequently misunderstood by non-specialists, between “maritime law”, in the sense of a specialist subject of mainly commercial national law, and the “law of the sea”, dealing with public international law issues. However, inevitably, a topic within maritime law has an international dimension, not only from an interest in how other jurisdictions approach common problems, but because maritime subjects are increasingly affected by international Conventions, whether implemented in the UK, as in the case of the International Convention on Salvage 1989 or the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks 2007 (WRC 2007), or unimplemented in the UK, as in the case of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001. Negotiations for international agreements take place against the background of political considerations and deliberations between nations and interest groups, as appears from the tension between the practice of raising old wrecks essentially under a salvage regime and the dissatisfaction of groups with historical and archaeological concerns.
Much of the earlier part of Gaskell & Forrest ranges over such general issues, covering relevant aspects of the commercial adventure (linking the subject with carriage of goods and passengers by sea and insurance considerations), rights in relation to wreck (including those of states), the law of the sea and the underwater cultural heritage. There is then substantial coverage of WRC 2007 and the familiar UK law on salvage and wreck.
Given a natural reluctance on the part of shipowners and insurers to pay for services on a salvage basis, they are inclined to prefer other contractual arrangements, in particular for wreck raising, removal and disposal. In this respect Gaskell & Forrest
is especially useful. It embraces discussion of the expansion of the Lloyd’s Form salvage contract by the addition of the SCOPIC clause (taking the Supreme Court’s decision in The Renos
 UKSC 29;  2 Lloyd’s Rep 78
;  Bus LR 1584 in its stride). But, more importantly, the reader is not simply referred to the standard contracts (Wreckhire 2010, Wreckfixed 2010 and Wreckstage 2010) in appendices but their working is explained against informed practical discussion of the options (and, with the possibility of official intervention, restrictions) on how to proceed. Indeed, examination of the legal options in the context of practical considerations is a key feature of the book.
The book concludes with a chapter on wreck disposal, including dumping at sea, scrapping and recycling, and general waste disposal, all of which have been subject to recent, or fairly recent, legislative instruments, including European Union legislation that has been extended beyond the UK’s withdrawal.
Both books cover a comprehensive and impressive range of sources and are written in a knowledgeable, confident and readable style. Both contain a wealth of information about their subjects and should be of interest beyond a specifically legal readership. For those who are wondering about potential legal issues and their resolution, there is extensive background information and indications of practical issues to be considered.
Maritime Legacies is obviously a more specialised work and more of a fascinating read on all aspects of its subject matter than a law-centred book. It was generated by the author’s participation in discussions on the centenary of the First World War to consider the implications for the growing number of UK wrecks falling within the scope of the UNESCO Convention but to which the UK has not been party. For anyone interested in ships or maritime history, this is a fascinating read, especially perhaps for the non-specialist, who has much to learn about ships involved in the Great War, in the context of the applicable law. We all know that the sea has risks, particularly in wartime, and few like to dwell on them; but one cannot but hope that Professor Forrest will not wait for the centenary of the Second World War to provide an equally fascinating further survey.
Professor Gaskell has long been known been known as one of the world’s foremost maritime lawyers and, in particular, for many years a mainstay of the Institute of Maritime Law at the University of Southampton. Even so, his name has not always featured as prominently as it should have done. He was responsible for what has for many years been the vade mecum to the London Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims 1976 (LLMC 1976), ie, Limitation of Shipowners’ Liability: The New Law (1986), but he was on leave, in Australia interestingly, when the book was at press and his due editorial recognition omitted. More significantly, he was the author of the extensive annotation of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 in Current Law Statutes. One is inclined to consult textbooks rather than annotated statutes but in this case that would be to overlook a treasure of learning on the mother statute, which deserved to have been published as an independent book and remains an invaluable resource. It is therefore gratifying that his name receives due prominence on a book that is likely to endure as the leading text on its subject matter. Moreover, Professor Forrest’s contributions, jointly to the bigger book and solely in the case of Maritime Legacies, emphasise the continuing value of the work coming out of the Marine and Shipping Law Unit at the University of Queensland.
In some respects, the longstanding prominence and success of maritime law and those involved with it has led to the subject’s being taken for granted, and even resentment, especially as other subjects increasingly compete for attention. It nevertheless remains the case that maritime law and affairs will continue to be important, especially for the United Kingdom in the post-Brexit world. As the subject and its challenges multiply, it is essential for thorough research and comprehensive, clear exposition. These two new books make valuable contributions to that exercise.