Flotsam and jetsam

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Flotsam and jetsam are words that describe goods of potential value that have been thrown into the ocean.

There is a technical difference between the two: jetsam has been voluntarily cast into the sea by the crew of a ship in order to lighten it in an emergency; while flotsam describes goods that float on the water, that have arrived there by shipwreck or some other indeliberate process.

Ligan (or lagan), describes goods that have been marked by being tied to a buoy so that its owner can find and retrieve it later.

Derelict is property which has been abandoned and deserted at sea by those who were in charge without any hope of recovering it. This includes vessels and cargo.

One famous recent example of flotsam occurred in the Pacific Ocean in 1992, when thousands of rubber ducks and other toys manufactured by the First Years corporation went overboard during a storm. The rubber ducks have since been discovered scattered across three oceans (the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic), and scientists have used the incident to gain a better understanding of ocean currents.

The differences among flotsam, jetsam, and ligan are occasionally of consequence in the law of admiralty and salvage. On land the distinction between deliberate and accidental loss led to the concept of Treasure Trove.

See also

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