salvage, in maritime law, the compensation that the owner must pay for having his vessel or cargo saved from peril, such as shipwreck, fire, or capture by an enemy. Salvage is awarded only when the party making the rescue was under no legal obligation to do so. A claim for salvage ordinarily is allowed if the salvor's activities had some effect in averting the threatened peril even if they were not indispensable. In the United States, salvage is granted for rescues made on navigable streams and lakes as well as on the open sea. Salvage includes a reward designed to encourage rescue operations besides the payment for the value of the services. In setting the amount of the salvage, courts consider relevant factors such as the expense and hazard of the rescue and the price of the ship or goods saved. Salvage is distributed by the court to the owner, the master, and the crew of the rescuing ship, usually according to fixed ratios. Salvage money is not payable to the captain and crew of ships commissioned by a government specifically for rescue operations.
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