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Disputes relating to Maritime/ Admiralty Laws in India

The Maritime/Admiralty law is a distinct branch of law that governs disputes and offences related to sailing on the sea or doing business (such as trading) on the sea.

The Maritime/Admiralty law is a distinct branch of law that governs disputes and offences related to sailing on the sea or doing business (such as trading) on the sea. It comprises both domestic laws governing maritime activities and private international law regulating relationships between private entities which operate ships/vessels on the oceans.

Admiralty Jurisdiction in India: -

The only Courts statutorily empowered to exercise Admiralty Jurisdiction in India are certain designated High Courts who derive their power from the Colonial Court of Admiralty Act, 1891. These are principally the High Courts of Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta and under the State’s Reorganization Act, the High Court of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa are also considered as Admiralty Courts.
An order of “Bombay High Court” can be executed anywhere in Indian territorial waters. The “Bombay High Court” has Pan-India jurisdiction which means a ship can be arrested anywhere in Indian waters with the order of arrest passed by the Bombay High Court while the Gujarat, Madras, Calcutta, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa High Courts have Admiralty Jurisdiction over their state territorial waters only.

Arrest of Ships/Vessels in India: -

The principles incorporated in the International Convention relating to Arrest of Seagoing Ships, Brussels, 1952, and International Convention of Arrest of Ships, Geneva, 1999 are part of the common law of India and are applicable for the enforcement of maritime claims against foreign ships in India.
Ship arrest is the quickest way to obtain security for a maritime claim or to negotiate for a settlement for unpaid dues. In the course of their voyage, ships may incur liabilities like causing damage to some other ships through collision, salvage, unpaid wages to workers, loss of life or damage to the goods being carried by them or due insurance premiums etc. and when they enter the waters of foreign states, they subject themselves to their jurisdiction. These ships can be detained or arrested as a security for the enforcement of maritime claims or seized in execution or satisfaction of judgments in legal actions arising out of the aforementioned liabilities incurred by them. A Claimant could also seek the arrest of a ship in the execution of the decree passed by any Superior Court of any reciprocating territory of a foreign country against the owner of the ship, subject to the condition that the original claim was a maritime claim.

Maritime Claims for Which the Arrest of a Ship/Vessel is  Permissible in India: -

Article 1 of the 1952 Brussels Arrest Convention and 1999 Geneva Arrest Convention describes all the claims concerning which a ship may be arrested. The principles of these conventions are applicable in India. A ship in Indian territorial waters could be arrested for the following maritime claims: -

  • Loss or damage caused by the operation of the ship.
  • Loss of life or personal injury occurring, whether on land or water, in direct connection with the operation of the ship and any claim towards salvage.
  • Damage or threat of damage caused by the ship to the environment, coastline, measures taken to prevent, minimize, or remove such damage including compensation for such damage.
  • Costs or expenses relating to the raising, removal, recovery, destruction of a ship which is sunk, wrecked, stranded or abandoned.
  • Any agreement relating to the use or hire of the ship, whether contained in a charter party or otherwise and Any agreement relating to the carriage of goods or passengers on board the ship, whether contained in a charter party or otherwise.
  • Loss or damage to or in connection with goods (including luggage) carried onboard the ship;
  • Wages and other sums due to the master, officers and other members of the ship’s complement in respect of their employment on the ship, including costs of repatriation and social insurance contributions payable on their behalf.
  • General Average; Towage, Pilotage, construction, reconstruction, repair, converting or equipping of the ship.
  • Any dispute as to ownership or possession of the ship and a dispute arising out of a contract for buying a ship.
  • Goods or materials, provisions, bunkers, equipment (including containers) supplied, or services rendered to the ship for its operation, management, preservation or maintenance etc.

Procedural Requirement for the Arrest of a Ship/Vessel in India: -

Following are the procedural requirements: -

  • A claimant has to execute the Power of Attorney to the person who can act on behalf of the claimant. Such Power of Attorney should be properly executed and notarized which is required to be stamped under the laws of India and has to be shown before the court for the filing of the plaint.
  • Notice is required to be given to the Consul General as per the rules of the High Court.
  • Claimant shall file the plaint along with the undertaking, Judges Order, a draft of the Warrant of Arrest and its affidavit before the court having the admiralty jurisdiction. All the other exhibits and supporting documents shall be filed at the time of making the application for the arrest.
Such application shall be moved before the Admiralty judge and the order is passed or he can dictate a separate order for the arrest of the ship.

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