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Law Service

Shipping Law

Legislative History

Admiralty courts were the courts which exercised jurisdiction over all the maritime contracts, torts, injuries and offenses. During British regime in India the maritime disputes were heard by ordinary civil courts, but the Letters Patent of 1865 conferred the admiralty jurisdiction over the chartered High Courts of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. Thereafter under the Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act of 1890, the above mentioned jurisdiction was also extended for the Colonial Courts. In India the act came to be known as the Colonial Courts of Admiralty (India) Act 1891. This Act gave power to the court of England to look into and deal with all civil and maritime disputes which were earlier looked into by the High Court of India only. Thus the High court of England continued to have jurisdiction under the Government of India Act 1915. After India got freedom and when the Constitution of India came into being the admiralty jurisdiction was protected under Article 225 of this Constitution. Therefore after the enforcement of the Constitution of India the High Court’s continued to exercise their power and jurisdiction.

Shipping Law in India

It is an understood fact that when a foreign merchant ship enters the territorial water, the vessel and the person would fall under the jurisdiction of the costal state. In other words they are subjected to local jurisdiction in criminal, civil and administrative matters. So for this purpose the various laws or legislations which are involved in dealing with the foreign merchant vessels are:

i. The Indian shipping vessels carrying goods from India by sea is governed by the Indian Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, 1925
This Act contains rules which regulate the rights and liabilities of the parties to the contract which are governed by the bills of lading.

ii. The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958
This Act deals with registering of Indian ships, the transferring and mortgaging of ships, employing of the seamen and their safety, nuclear ships, collisions, accidents caused at the sea and liability, limitation of liability, navigation, preventing pollution, investigation and enquiries, wreck and salvage, coasting trade, sailing vessels, penalties and procedure etc.

iii. The Custom Act, 1962-
The Act deals with the regulatory measures which affect the ships goods and persons in connection with the import and export of goods and also with employment of the labor in vessels.

iv. The Indian bills of lading Act of 1856
The Act specifies the law governing Bills of Lading and the rights of the endorsee, consignee etc in this regard.

v. Indian Ports Act, 1908 and The Major Port Trusts Act, 1963
These Acts are mainly concerned with the dealing of administration of the port and also allowing jurisdiction of the courts over the ships in ports. Apart from the Acts mentioned above there are also certain general statutes which govern or which help in dealing with the foreign merchant vessels and they are:

  • a. Marine Insurance Act,1963
  • b. The Contract Act, 1872
  • c. The Evidence Act, 1872
  • d. The Indian Penal Code, 1860
  • e. The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908
  • f. The Criminal Procedure Code, 1973
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The admiralty jurisdiction vests with the High Courts in India and the High Courts have exercised this jurisdiction in several cases which include Kamlakar v. The Scindia Steam Navigation Co. Ltd; Rungta Sons Ltd. v. Owners and Master of Edison ; National Co. Ltd. v. M.S. Asia Mariner ; M.V. Elisabeth v Harwan Investment & Trading Pvt. Ltd., Goa; Liverpool and London S.P. and I Asson Ltd v. M.V. Sea Success I and Anr.

When a foreign ship enters into the Indian waters and if under any situations these ships get arrested, then the High Court of India has got the necessary admiralty jurisdiction to look into such matters. Therefore in such cases it is not necessary that the defendant should be residing in India or should be carrying on business of any sort to initiate legal proceeding against another or the opposite party. Such grounds are however considered to be irrelevant by the High Court as it thrusts upon the jurisdiction on the foreign ship more. So, when a ship is arrested, it is a part of the procedure that the owner of the ship should appear before the respective High Court and furnish the security for the release of the ship. Once the court is satisfied with the security furnished by the owner, thereafter the proceedings will continue as a personal action only.

A foreign vessel, irrespective of its nationality would be temporarily governed with the respective country’s law if it enters into the country’s territorial water or in the port where the vessel enters. So it is implied that, the ship along with the men in the vessel should mandatorily comply with laws and regulations of the port. It is therefore to be understood that once a foreign vessel passes out of the territorial water, the vessel would not owe any further duty at the last or the previous place where the vessel was in port. However if there are any sort of misconducts which is conducted by the men in the vessel then they would be subjected to penalties on their future subsequent visit.

Related Enactments

The Carriers Act, 1865
This Act aimed to limit the liability of the carriers for the loss or damage caused to the property delivered to them to be carried out and also to declare their liability for loss of or damage caused to such property by due negligence or criminal acts of themselves, their servants or agents. This provision of the Act was however highlighted and brought forward in the following case: M/s. M.G. Brothers Lorry Service v. M/s. Prasad Textiles AIR 1984 SC 15.

Major Ports Trust Act, 1963
This Act was enacted by the Parliament in the Fourteenth Year of India being a Republic. It was considered to be an Act to make provisions for the Constitution of Port Authorities for certain major ports in India and to vest the administration, control and management of such ports in such authorities and for matters connected therewith.

Major Ports Regulatory Authority Act, 2009
Major Ports Regulatory Authority Act is considered to be a successor to the provisions laid down under the Major Port Trust Act, 1963 in so far as the working of Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP) is concerned. The move towards this was however carried forward by the Committee headed by the Additional Secretary and Financial Advisor, Ministry of Shipping who later finalized the draft Major Ports Regulatory Authority Act, 2009 (MPRAA, 2009).

Merchant Shipping Act, 1958
Merchant Shipping Act was enacted by the Parliament in the Fourteenth Year of India being a Republic. This is an Act to foster the development and ensure the efficient maintenance of an Indian mercantile marine in a manner best suited to seven the national interest and for that purpose of establishing a National Shipping Board and a Shipping Development Fund in order to provide for the registration of Indian ships and to amend and consolidate the law relating to merchant shipping.

The Inland Waterways Authority of India Act, 1985
The Act provides for the constitution of an Authority for the regulation and development of inland waterways for purposes of shipping and navigation.

The Inland Vessels Act, 1917
It is an Act to consolidate the enactments relating to Inland Vessels.

The Indian Ports Act, 1908
This is an Act to consolidate the enactments relating to Ports and Port-charges.

The Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Act, 1981
This Act seeks to provide for the regulation of fishing by the foreign vessels in certain maritime zones of India.