For centuries, seafaring was a profession for adventurers. Without the modern benefits of weather satellites, radio communication, radar, and accurate charts, long-distance sea voyages were dangerous and risky enterprises. A successful voyage could be a source of great wealth for a shipowner and his captain. But the risks of storms, uncharted shoals, unseaworthy vessels, pirates, and disease made seafaring a uniquely dangerous profession. For this reason, seafarers for centuries have recognized an unwritten moral obligation to render aid to fellow seafarers in distress.
It was not until the twentieth century, however, that the world’s maritime nations unified to adopt an almost universally accepted international statutory duty requiring ships to render assistance to others. In 1910, at the Third International Conference on Maritime Law held in Brussels, Belgium, the United States and more than twenty other seafaring nations drafted the International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules with Respect to Assistance and Salvage at Sea (Brussels Convention). The Brussels Convention (sometimes also called the Salvage Convention) addressed issues regarding collisions, salvage, and the duty to render assistance at sea.