Admiralty Act ,2017(overview)

Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Act,2017

  • The Admiralty Jurisdiction Act seeks to consolidate the laws relating to admiralty jurisdiction (the jurisdiction to deal with maritime claims), legal proceedings in connection with vessels, their arrest, detention and sale and other connected matters.
  • In Kamalakar Mahadev Bhagat v. Scindia Steamship Navigation Co. Ltd (AIR 1961Bom 186, (1960) 62 BOMLR 995), It was held that a suit for damages by the ship owner against any vessel for collision on the high seas should be adjudicated by the High Court having Admiralty Jurisdiction on its Admiralty side, regardless of whether it’s an Indian vessel or a foreign flag vessel.

Applicability

  • The Admiralty Jurisdiction Act applies to all boats, ships and other vessels in Indian territorial waters, except inland vessels, vessels under construction that have not been launched and naval or other non-commercial government vessels. It also applies to vessels that have sunk or are stranded or abandoned and the remains of such vessels.
  • The Act will not apply to any foreign vessel that is used for any non-commercial purpose as may be notified by the central government.
  • The Act should apply to all kinds of commercial ships, including general cargo ships, bulk carriers, container ships, roll-on/roll-off vessels, oil and liquefied gas carriers, chemical carriers, product carriers, livestock vessels, tug vessels and even commercial passenger ships.
  • The new Admiralty Jurisdiction Act expressly vests admiralty jurisdiction in the High Courts of all the coastal states in India, i.e., the Calcutta High Court, the Bombay High Court, the Madras High Court, the Karnataka High Court, the Gujarat High Court, the Orissa High Court, the Kerala High Court and the Hyderabad High Court. Each court has jurisdiction over waters up to (and including) its territorial sea waters. The Act also permits the Central Government to vest admiralty jurisdiction in other High Courts, and extend the jurisdiction of the High Courts, by notification.
  • Section 4 : the Act lists different maritime claims from 4(1)(a) to 4(1)(w) including disputes regarding vessel possession or ownership, disputes between vessel co-owners about the employment or earnings of the vessel, claims regarding mortgages or charges on a vessel, claims regarding loss or damage caused by the operation of a vessel (including environmental damage), claims regarding loss of life or personal injury occurring in direct connection with the operation of a vessel and claims regarding loss or damage to or in connection with any goods. Claims in relation to certain types of agreements (agreements relating to the carriage of goods or passengers and agreements relating to the use or hire of a vessel) also fall within the definition of maritime claims, and therefore within the High Courts’ admiralty jurisdiction under the Act, as do claims arising out of any goods supplied or services rendered to a vessel for its operation, management, preservation or maintenance, disputes arising out of contracts for sale of a vessel, claims regarding the payment of seamen’s wages and insurance related matters. Interestingly, the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act does not include claims regarding loss or damage caused to a vessel within the definition of maritime claims (although such claims will often fall within some other category of claim and therefore within admiralty jurisdiction under the Act). In the case of M.V. Nord lake v. Union of India (2012 (3) Bom CR 510), the Bombay High Court held that the ship owner is liable to furnish security up to the value of the vessel provided that the value of the arrested vessel is less than the value of the plaintiff’s claim
  • Section 2(g) of the act defines Maritime lean A maritime lien is a special type of maritime claim that continues to exist over a ship or vessel despite any change of ownership, registration or flag. The Admiralty Jurisdiction Act lists which claim will result in a maritime lien over a vessel and describes the order of priority to be given to maritime claims where multiple such claims are made.
  • Section 9 of the act says (1) Every maritime lien shall have the following order of inter se priority, namely:

 (a) claims for wages and other sums due to the master, officers and other members of the vessel’s

 (b) claims in respect of loss of life or personal injury occurring

(c) claims for reward for salvage services

 (d) claims for port, canal, and other waterway dues and pilotage dues and any other statutory dues related to the vessel; (e) claims based on tort arising out of loss or damage caused by the operation.

  • Section 5 of the act deals with Arrest of vessel in rem.
  •  Courts with admiralty jurisdiction exercise their authority over both vessels within their territorial waters (jurisdiction in rem) and persons within their territory (jurisdiction in personam). The Admiralty Jurisdiction Act specifies the circumstances in which courts can exercise both these types of jurisdictions. The Act also sets out certain procedures to be followed on the arrest or sale of vessels. The Act provides that any vessel ordered to be arrested or any proceeds of a vessel on sale under this Act will be held as security into force, it will be a welcome reference point for   against any claim pending the final outcome of the admiralty proceeding. Further, a claimant seeking the arrest of a vessel may be required to furnish an unconditional undertaking on the terms determined by the High Court to secure the defendant from any loss or damage that may result due to such arrest (for example, if the arrest is wrongful or unjustified). The Act also provides that the High Court ordering the sale of a vessel can determine any questions relating to the title to the proceeds of the sale.
  • Previously, vessel / ship had not been defined, and by case law was understood to mean ‘anything which was capable of navigation’. The Admiralty Act now defines Vessel in Section 2 (1) (l), to include any ship, boat, sailing vessel or other description of vessel used or constructed for use in navigation by water, whether it is propelled or not, and includes a barge, lighter or other floating vessel, a hovercraft, an off-shore industry mobile unit, a vessel that has sunk or is stranded or abandoned and the remains of such a vessel. The Explanation to this section specifically excludes a vessel that is broken up to such an extent that it cannot be put into use for navigation, as certified by a surveyor.

Reference:

  1. Maritime Jurisdiction and Admiralty Law in India – Samareshwar Mahanty – Universal Law Publishing

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