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Sailing the High Seas: Q&A with the Maritime Lawyers at Gawthrop Greenwood

If there’s a local port or public body of water involved, chances are that Gawthrop Greenwood is too. The firm’s Maritime Law Department recently sat down to describe the scope of its work, how it affects transportation of goods and other services, as well as expanding services in Delaware’s busy Port of Wilmington.

What does Maritime Law encompass?

Maritime law is a combination of federal, state and international laws that apply to oceans, rivers – even lakes – and the vessels that navigate those waters. Water transportation expands into roadway and railway delivery.

Who do you serve in our region?

We are the only Chester County law firm to offer Maritime Law services. Our focus is on the business side of things, primarily representing finance companies, ship operators and ship owners (including oil companies). We do a lot of work structuring, negotiating and documenting multimillion-dollar business deals, and making sure all is in compliance with U.S. and international law.

Michael Merlie

Sandra Knapp
Attorneys Sandra L. Knapp and Michael F. Merlie lead Gawthrop Greenwood, PC’s Maritime & Transportation Law Department.

The Port of Wilmington is busy and growing, so lately we have been very busy in that area. We are called upon to assist and handle lawsuits affecting Wilmington’s port as well as the port of Philadelphia.

Who enforces Maritime Law?

In the United States, mainly the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Transportation. In the fisheries, there are other U.S. governmental agencies involved. But internationally, it varies for each location and situation, which can make things very complicated if you don’t have a well-qualified attorney.

Who do you represent outside the Philadelphia and Delaware area?

We do a lot of work on the Delaware River, but also in the Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, Alaska crude trade, and inland waters of the U.S.

Nationally, we also handle environmental matters with the EPA on behalf of clients. Some of our most fascinating cases in this arena involve recycling older vessels for their valuable steel, which can be used to build bridges and other projects that use high-grade steel.

What’s the biggest challenge that ship operators face right now?

Structuring transactions so they comply with U.S. laws and citizenship requirements for U.S. trade.

You must be a U.S. citizen to move cargo or passengers between points in this country. This protects our U.S. interests, and most of our clients benefit from the law. But it can be a major issue for offshore oil rigs and offshore wind turbines. We frequently assist with U.S. citizenship requirements.

How long have you been practicing in Maritime Law?

Almost 40 years! One of our partners clerked and then worked for a boutique maritime law firm, and she was hooked. The breadth of the Department’s experience, combined with the mergers, acquisitions and corporate governance experience of Gawthrop Greenwood’s Business Law attorneys makes for a formidable team of attorneys on your side.

Gawthrop Greenwood partners Sandra L. Knapp and Michael F. Merlie lead the firm’s Maritime & Transportation Law Department. They can be reached at (610) 696-8225.

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Gawthrop Greenwood, PC has offices in West Chester, PA and Wilmington, DE serving clients throughout the greater mid-Atlantic region and nation. For more than a century, the firm has stood behind its core principle of providing high-quality legal services with personal attention. Gawthrop Greenwood’s diverse portfolio of clients comprises entrepreneurs, businesses, and governmental entities that entrust the firm with their representation in a wide range of matters including mergers and acquisitions, commercial litigation, estate and tax planning, land use and development, and domestic relations. A complete listing of the firm’s practice areas and attorneys, as well as a variety of legal resources, can be found at

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