A towage service is the employment of a vessel to aid the actions of another or to help facilitate the process of another for remuneration purposes. In simple terms towage can be said to be the instance where services of one vessel is needed to help another vessel navigate a course. Usually when navigating certain restricted courses or within port areas, the services of another vessel would be needed.
Towage is usually necessary when a vessel is in restricted waters, vessels that are not self propelled would also need towage. When in a nation’s port, towage is compulsory and would usually be from the anchorage (the area of sea just beyond the breakwaters of a port) to any designated area in the port. The vessel providing this service is known as the tug (Tug boat) and the vessel that receives the service is the tow.
During a port towage operation, the tug becomes a servant of the tow and takes instruction from the towed. In this regards, the tow is vicariously liable for the tug in times of damages caused. The tug must however be sea worthy, manned with skilled crew and must have provided its services with all reasonable care without negligence. With towage operations on the high seas, the tug’s master is in charge.
The tow on the other hand has the duty of utmost good faith to disclose its rightful location and condition to the tug. Towage is a contract and therefore the tow pays the tug.
Salvage on the other hand is an activity or operation to assist a vessel or property in danger for a fee.The operation which could include towing,re-floating etc happens so quick that the activity is carried out before any contract or agreement is reached. The basic reason is that when a vessel is in danger immediate action is required to assist it and there may not be time for a contract. A salvage act also operates on the principle of “no cure no pay” which means that, the salvage operation must be successful and if not there would be no reward.This principle made salvors shy away from high risk salvage operation hence a special compensation has been put in place to reward an operation which might have prevented pollution to the environment even though the vessel or value of the actual property might have been lost.
Towage and salvage are a bit similar, the main difference is that in salvage, the vessel must be in danger. There are however, instances where a towage operation turns into a salvage activity.
When towage turns to salvage.. A towage turns salvage if during a towage operation it is determined that the vessel or tow is in danger, the purpose of the operation then shifts from just aiding a vessel through a course to assisting it out of danger. The caveat however is that, this danger must be unforeseen before the commencement of the initial towage contract otherwise it would still remain towage.
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