India is supposedly one of the most important stakeholders in the maritime industry. Usage of the sea is not a recent activity for India. In ancient times, most transportation used to happen through the seas. A lot of important ports are also present in India. The maritime laws that we follow today have arrived from the laws and statutes that were present in the colonial period. Some of the laws and statutes which dealt with maritime affairs in the colonial period are:
- Admiralty Offences (Colonial) Act of 1849
- Inland Steaming Vessels Act, 1917
- Coasting Vessels Act of 1838 and many more.
The period from 1823 – 1940, saw the introduction of such laws by the British government. The Letters Patent Act of 1862 established the Indian Courts’ admiralty jurisdiction. According to this Act, the High Courts of Fort William in Bengal, Bombay, and Madras have been granted jurisdiction for the trial and application of the law of maritime matters in India. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1958 was the model for the current Merchant Shipping Act. India has placed a high value on maritime affairs for centuries. It has been receiving and sending ships constantly to and from its coasts for centuries. Nevertheless, the legalization of maritime concerns has only recently gotten importance, with domestic laws becoming more firmly established.
IMPORTANCE OF MARITIME LAWS IN INDIA
Maritime laws are extremely important these days. In the case of “M. V. Elisabeth v. Harwan Investment and Trading Pvt Ltd”, it was held that that the high courts of India hold maximum power to address maritime issues within India. Maritime laws serve a lot of purposes. Majorly Maritime Law deals with the process of transporting goods by sea, rules governing the protection and maintenance of ships at sea, registration, and damage to ships, marine insurance, and so on. Maritime cases cover both business and pleasure and include injuries and working conditions at sea, cargo, shipping and trade, and any type of illegal activity that occurs at sea. Maritime law differs from onshore law in that these cases will fall under the jurisdiction of the particular nations depending upon the flags that the ships are flying. Maritime laws in India also specify how the workers should be treated.
One of the most important maritime disputes that involved India was the dispute that happened between India and Bangladesh. There were a lot of issues including “exclusive economic zones”, and “delimitation of the territorial sea”. Bangladesh was awarded an area of 19,467 sq. km. of the Bay of Bengal from the disputed maritime borderline with India.
In the year 2019, a bill was passed in India. It was called the “Anti – Maritime Piracy Bill”. It has become a report on 11th February 2021. According to this report, if any acts of piracy happen on the high seas, the Indian legal and judiciary system can take action against such acts. The rules and guidelines mentioned in this report have been influenced a lot by the UN convention on “the law of the sea”. The report mentions that the jurisdiction of the Indian government lies 200 nautical miles starting from the Indian coastline. The punishments have been stated as well. Hence, the maritime laws tend to protect against such acts of violence and piracy as well. This shows how important these laws are, especially for a country like India, which is surrounded by water on the three sides.
Next, there is the “Maritime Zones of India Act” of 1981 which deals with certain regulations that have to be followed by the vessels while operating (fishing and related activities) on the seas. Therefore, this act protects the marine environment.
INDIA’S POSITION IN THE IMO
As of now, the existence and participation of India in the IMO have been limited to individuals. India should now make its presence felt to serve its national interests. In recent years, India has made very few submissions, which are not proportional to India’s stake in international shipping. India has been significantly lagging. India’s undefinable presence and intercessions in the “International Maritime Organization” have also influenced its attitudes. Most European nations have raised a powerful voice to protect their interests. They have also backed each other up in their respective causes. Unlike them, India has not followed suit. India has always had a weak voice in several issues. For instance, the permanent delegate post of India in London has remained unoccupied for a long time, that is around 25 years. This had to be fulfilled immediately. At gatherings, the portrayal is frequently done through a skeletal appointment, which is supported by the Ministry. Cooperation at IMO gatherings is viewed as more of a junket. A review of IMO records reveals that:
“the number of entries made by India in the recent past has been insignificant in comparison to India’s stakes in global transportation/ shipping.”
So, it can be concluded that India’s position should be strengthened more so that it can protect its interests.
It can be concluded from the above article that maritime laws are important in India. These laws help in regulating the maritime issues in India. Maritime laws related to vessels and trade usually play a significant part in development because they are some of the primary areas in which a country like ours generates its revenues. These maritime laws also help in dealing with various environmental issues.
- ‘Indian Maritime Laws: Outline and Introduction’, [February 28, 2021], https://legalreadings.com/indian-maritime-laws-outline-and-introduction/.
- Adarsh Vasudeva, ‘Maritime Law’, [July 19, 2020], https://blog.ipleaders.in/maritime-law/.
- M. V. Elisabeth v. Harwan Investment and Trading Pvt Ltd., [1993 AIR 1014]
- L.K. Panda and M. Kalyanaraman, ‘A case of a maritime presence adrift’, [February 5, 2020]<https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-case-of-a-maritime-presence-adrift/article30736915.ece>.
- Supra note 1.
This article is written by Aaratrika Bal student at National Law University, Odisha.