India with a coastline of about 7500 km and massive interest in the Indian Ocean as well as the Bay of Bengal is rightfully tagged as a “seafaring nation”. Thus, it is directly responsible to dispense justice over waters under its control. Admiralty law or maritime law is a code of both domestic and private international law that covers all contracts, injuries, torts or offences over navigable waters. After independence, India’s maritime sector experienced phenomenal progress with 12 major and 205 minor ports . In contrast, legal system maintained status quo by subscribing to age old traditional British statutes which limited the maritime jurisdiction to only three Indian High courts viz. Bombay, Calcutta and Madras (three major ports during British regime). After Supreme Court judgement in M.V. Elisabeth and others Vs. Harwan Investment and Trading Pvt. Ltd. and law commission 151st Report matter attracted widespread attention. To solve the problem of conflicting maritime jurisdiction, procedural delays and to clear the ambiguity over maritime laws, Parliament introduced ‘The Admiralty Bill, 2005’ which subsequently lapsed after being termed as regressive piece of legislation.
Bright rays of hope have rekindled with the passing of ‘The Admiralty (Jurisdiction & Settlement of Maritime claims) Bill, 2016’ in the Lok Sabha. Preamble of the bill gives a clear idea about its far reaching ramification. 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 .
Under British enactments, admiralty jurisdiction is conferred only to those High Courts which were established under the Letters Patent, 1865. This composition will be changed after the enactment of ‘The Admiralty Bill, 2016’. Jurisdiction will vest in the High Courts of Coastal states and shall be exercisable up to territorial waters which can be extended via central govt. notification up to the limit as defined in sec 2 of act of 1976 . This will not only bring efficiency but will also lead to speedy disposal of maritime disputes.
The High Courts are empowered to adjudicate maritime claims arising out of disputes regarding ownership of vessel; mortgage, sale, damage, construction, repair, conversion of the vessel. Vessel is defined as any ship, boat or sailing vessel which may or may not be mechanically propelled. Highest priority is given to maritime claims in all admiralty proceedings followed by other claims as mentioned in the bill. Jurisdiction can be exercised In personam and in rem as the case may be. Appeals will lie to the division bench of High court.
This bill seeks to repeal five archaic admiralty laws on civil matters viz. 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 Patent, 1865 in so far as they apply to the admiralty jurisdiction of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras High Court .
Hence, Maritime and legal fraternity wait finally ended after seventy years of independence when Parliament exercised its exclusive power in concerned area. Indeed, this bill will cater to long felt requirement of comprehensive admiralty law. By simplification of procedure, maritime disputes, which often termed as costly affair can be disposed off quickly and efficiently.
 section 3 of The Admiralty ( jurisdiction & settlement of maritime claims ) Bill, 2016. Act of 1976 refers to ‘The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Zone and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976’
 section 17 of The Admiralty ( jurisdiction & settlement of maritime claims ) Bill, 2016
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deepika Sangwan is a second-year student at Army Institute of Law, Mohali. She is an Editor at college magazine ‘AILITE 2016-2017’. She believes that writing gives clarity & depth to one’s thoughts. Apart from decorating facts with reasoning, cycling is her favourite pass time.
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