The Admiralty (Jurisdiction & Settlement of Maritime Claims) Bill 2016 was introduced on 21st November, 2016 by Minister of State for Shipping by Mr Mansukh Mandaviya and passed by the Lok Sabha on March 10, 2017.

This Bill seeks to consolidate the existing laws on civil matters of admiralty jurisdiction of courts, admiralty proceedings on maritime claims, and arrest of ships. Admiralty laws deal with cases of accidents in navigable waters or involve contracts related to commerce on such waters. The proposed Bill will repeal laws such as the Admiralty Court Act, 1861, the Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, 1890, the Colonial Courts of Admiralty (India) Act, 1891 and the provisions of Letters Patents, 1865.

After analyzing the Bill in detail and interpreting the fine prints, it would indeed be grave injustice to not point out the obvious repercussions this Bill will cause if it becomes an Act. In order to substantiate my stand let us look at sections 3 and 9 below.

According to section 3 of the Bill, the jurisdiction with respect to maritime claims under the Bill will vest with the respective High Courts and will extend up to the territorial waters of their respective jurisdictions. The Central government may extend the jurisdiction of these High Courts. Currently The Bombay High Court exercises pan India Jurisdiction to issue orders of arrest & release of vessels which can be enforced in any Admiralty court within the country.

An interesting fact to highlight here is that if this pan India jurisdiction is revoked from the Bombay High Court, it will work against the claimants because, the party initiating the suit will have to invoke the Jurisdiction of the High court within whose territorial waters, the vessel is, which will leave the claimat vulnerable in the event the vessel sails out. If the vessel sails out to another port in India, it will fall under the territorial Jurisdiction of another High Court and fresh proceedings to obtain an order of arrest or release will have to be initiated and the court fees will have to be deposited again without getting a refund from the previous court. More so, an order of withdrawal of the suit will have to be obtained so that fresh action can be initiated in that other state where the vessel has sailed and with paucity of time, instructing another law firm or a lawyer in that state and preparation for filing of the admiralty suit the vessel will move out of that state by the time an order of arrest is obtained. This will frustrate the claimants claim and virtually make it impossible to initiate any legal action in India or file any admiralty suits. 

A claimant who wishes to arrest a vessel for his genuine claim in the jurisdiction of a specific High Court would not be able to arrest the same vessel in the Jurisdiction of another High Court unless he has withdrawn his application in the previous jurisdiction, should the vessel leave the initial port before the Claimant has obtained the arrest order from the first High Court. In this way the vessel owner can dodge the claimant and escape arrest/liability. 

Today, India is considered as one of the best jurisdiction for ship arrest work and has attracted claimants globally to initiate legal action in India. The admiralty jurisdiction of the High Court is dependent on the presence of the foreign ship in Indian waters and founded on the arrest of that ship. This jurisdiction can be assumed by the concerned High Court, whether or not the defendant resides or carries on business, or the cause of action arose wholly or in part, within the local limits of its jurisdiction. 

Alternatively the Bill could have ideally granted that each of the High courts having admiralty jurisdiction should be given pan India jurisdiction instead of restricting and extending only up to the territorial waters of their respective jurisdictions. 

Also, according to section 9, subsection (1) & (2), The limitation period has decreased from 3 years to 1 year in the case of maritime lien specified in sub-section (1) shall continue to exist on the vessel notwithstanding any change of ownership or of registration or of flag and shall be extinguished after expiry of a period of one year unless, prior to the expiry of such period, the vessel has been arrested or seized and such arrest or seizure has led to a forced sale by the High Court.

The limitation period has decreased from 3 years to 2 years in the case of a claim under clause (a) of sub- section (1), the period shall be two years from the date on which the wage, sum, cost of repatriation or social insurance contribution, falls due or becomes payable.

Needless to say that this will work against the claimants and crew members because it restricts their chance to obtain justice and redress their grievance or get reimbursed for their loss.

This new Bill inclines more in the favor of ship owners and P&I Clubs and needs to take under its purview, the claimants and petitioners. In the favor of fair judgment and want of justice the Bill needs to be re-visited/ reconsidered as these are serious defects. 

Even though the Bill aims to replace archaic laws which most consider a hindrance in efficient governance, it must be brought to the notice of all those in favor of this Bill that even bringing a law more than a hundred years later, a few things have been left ambiguous or left out completely.

Read the bill here: