Jetsam Flotsam - Encyclopedia

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JETSAM FLOTSAM and LIGAN, in English law, goods lost at sea, as distinguished from goods which come to land, which are technically designated wreck. Jetsam (the same word as jettison, from Lat. jactare, to throw) is when goods are cast into the sea, and there sink and remain under water; flotsam (floatson, from float, Lat. flottare) is where they continue floating on the surface of the waves; ligan (or lagan, from lay or lie) is where they are sunk in the sea, but tied to a cork or buoy in order to be found again. Flotsam, jetsam and ligan belong to the sovereign in the absence only of the true owner. Wreck, on the other hand (i.e. goods cast on shore), was by the common law adjudged to the sovereign in any case, because it was said by the loss of the ship all property was gone out of the original owner. This singular distinction which treated goods washed ashore as lost, and goods on and in the sea as not lost, is no doubt to be explained by the primitive practice of plundering wrecked ships. (See WRECK.)

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