Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Bill

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Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Bill, 2017 was passed unanimously in the Rajya Sabha.

The Bill aims to establish a legal framework for consolidation of related laws to replace the age old archaic laws with modern Indian legislation and to confer admiralty jurisdiction on all High Courts of the coastal states of the country.

The bill was earlier passed by the Lok Sabha in March, 2017.

The Bill repeals five obsolete British statutes on admiralty jurisdiction in civil matters, namely, (a) Admiralty Court Act, 1840 (b) Admiralty Court Act, 1861, (c) Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, 1890, (d) Colonial Courts of Admiralty (India) Act, 1891, and (e) the provisions of the Letters Patent, 1865, applicable to the admiralty jurisdiction of the Bombay, Calcutta and Madras High Courts.

The Admiralty law governs maritime questions and offenses. It is a body of both domestic law governing maritime activities and private international law governing the relationships between private entities that operate vessels on the oceans. It deals with matters including marine commerce, marine navigation, marine salvaging, shipping, sailors, and the transportation of passengers and goods by sea.

The Bill provides for prioritization of maritime claims and maritime liens while providing protection to owners, charterers, operators, crew members and seafarers at the same time.

As per the new Bill, High Courts of all the coastal states shall exercise admiralty jurisdiction over maritime claims which include several aspects not limited to goods imported and chattel as earlier, but also other claims such as payment of wages of seamen, loss of life, salvages, mortgage, loss or damage, services and repairs, insurance, ownership and lien, threat of damage to environment etc.

The Bill accords highest priority to payment of wages of the seafarers.

The Bill also provides for protection against wrongful and unjustified arrest and has provision for transfer of cases from one High Court to other High Court.

This law applies to every vessel irrespective of place of residence or domicile of owner.

It does not apply to warships and naval auxiliary vessels used for non-commercial purposes.

In order to ensure security against a maritime claim, a vessel can be arrested in certain circumstances.

The liability in respect of selected maritime claims on a vessel passes on to its new owners by way of maritime lien subject to a stipulated time limit.

In respect of aspects on which provisions are not laid down in the Bill, the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 is applicable.

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