William & Mary Business Law Review


Maritime law is ultimately driven by commerce. The seas were—and continue to be—one of the easiest ways to transfer goods over large distances. Yet maritime commerce has a relative newcomer that is not shipping or transportation focused—offshore drilling. Should admiralty and maritime law, intended to protect seamen and keep ships engaged in maritime commerce apply to personal injury claims on drilling rigs on the Outer Continental Shelf? This Note argues that they should not apply for two reasons. In Lozman v. Riviera Beach, the Supreme Court announced that a “vessel” should appear to the reasonable observer as intended to carry a person or things over water. Because a maritime tort requires a “vessel,” and the Lozman definition thereof suggests that drilling rigs are not “vessels,” admiralty and maritime law generally cannot apply to torts on drilling rigs. Moreover, Congress was explicit in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act that structures engaged in drilling were to be treated as enclaves of federal law in some “upland state.” Because the OCSLA is clear that it intends federal law such as the Long Shore Harbor Worker Compensation Act to apply to drill platform workers, admiralty and the general maritime law should not apply to drilling-related torts occurring on such rigs.