Introduction –

Maritime law governs maritime issues, including delivery delays, misplaced parcels, cargo damage, and other potential shipping-related conflicts such ship damage, collisions, accidents, and crew injuries. Public laws pertaining to the same topics fall under the purview of the Law of Sea, while maritime laws deal with a nation’s laws that govern maritime matters. These laws are an intricate web of different national laws and international treaties. These marine laws have changed significantly over time.

Given the nature of the law and its subject matter, it is evident that international customs and practices have a significant influence on maritime laws. Along with issues pertaining to navigable waters, these laws include a wide range of maritime activities and affairs, such as shipping, navigation, other maritime issues, ships, sailors, passenger transit across the sea, etc.

Diff. b/w Admiralty, Maritime Laws and Law of the Sea –

Admiralty –

According to civil law procedure, the term “admiralty” has limited jurisdiction over a specific class of maritime proceedings. Admiralty law is limited to the laws that are applied in courts and concerns rem. In summary, it encompasses the topics of high seas contracts and torts.

Admiralty law is regarded as a subset of jurisprudence that deals with both criminal and civil marine concerns. Additionally, it envisions a court or tribunal using its unique and exclusive methods to administer maritime law.

Maritime Law –

“Marine” has jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to marine transportation or those that arise on the water. This is more extensive than admiralty. The legal guidelines and principles pertaining to the transportation of goods and people by water are collectively referred to as maritime law.

Maritime law pertains to private shipping matters and is commonly known as the nation’s national legislation.

Law of Sea –

One area of public international law is the law of the sea. The obligations of individual nations in maritime environments are governed by the law of the sea. The international application of marine movement and behaviour is governed by the law of the sea. These laws therefore pertain to foreign politics.

History and evolution –

The evolution in this branch naturally led to the creation of the current maritime regulations. One of the causes of this evolution is the ongoing trade between the countries that were actively engaged in maritime navigation. These laws have a nearly three-thousand-year history.

International trade cannot exist without the movement of products between nations or import and export. These activities are an essential component of the old trade routes. Like this, laws and guidelines controlling these maritime transportation operations—whether they involve cargo or people—have existed since the first century BC.

Evolution –

It evolved through various laws – 

  1. The Rhodian Sea law – 800 BCE addressed maritime issues, maritime insurance and fatalities at sea. 
  2. Roman law – 3 codes were found that were Consolato del Mare, Laws of Oleron, and Laws of Wisby.
  3. Consulate of the Sea – Consolato del Mare or Consulate of the Sea is the oldest and prepared in Barcelona.
  4. Early European codes – The most important and recognized codes were the laws of Wisby, the Laws of Hansa Towns, and the Laws of Oleron.
  5. International Maritime Convention – held in the 19th and 20th centuries to address the growing need for international cooperation in maritime activities. The conventions discussed laws regarding collisions at sea. 
  6. International Maritime Organization – UN established to supervise the modernisation and harmonisation of maritime laws. 
  7. UNCLOS – after the establishment of IMO, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) treaty was adopted in 1982 to define the boundaries for nations to use maritime resources, navigation routes, and environmental protection of the world’s oceans.

History of Maritime Law in India –

India’s history of maritime trade with Asia and the Middle East extends back thousands of years. Based on the trading practices and conventions of people engaged in maritime business, Indian maritime law started to take shape. However, the British colonial era created the groundwork for modern maritime legislation in India.

Although the British government tried to restrict India’s participation in the shipping sector, they also adopted a number of important statutes that established the foundation for the nation’s maritime and admiralty laws. Over time, India’s marine infrastructure and legal framework were developed in large part thanks to important laws including the Territorial Waters Jurisdiction Act 1878, the Indian Ports Act 1908, the Indian Merchant Shipping Act 1923, and the Indian Registration of Ships Act 1841.

With 13 important ports that support marine trade, India today has a thriving maritime sector. It is among the most well-organized shipping fleets in the world, handling almost 95% of India’s merchandise trade by volume and roughly 68% by value via maritime transportation.

Law in India –

In its 151st Report, the Law Commission made several recommendations and changes related to marine laws. In 2005, a Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha based on these proposals. But at that point, the bill was not approved. Subsequently, in 2016, the Lok Sabha proposed the Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Bill, which was approved by both chambers. The Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Act, 2017 was finally passed and went into effect in April of that same year.

Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Act, 2017 The Act seeks to unify existing laws pertaining to civil cases under admiralty jurisdiction, court actions involving marine claims, ship arrests, and related things. The purpose of enacting the statute is made clear by the title of the Act itself. The Act tries to bring together all the laws pertaining to admiralty jurisdiction, other legal actions involving the boats, including ship arrest, detention, sale, and related issues.

UNCLOS The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which became operative on November 16, 1994, is an international agreement that establishes a set of rules for the use of the seas and oceans around the world. These rules aim to protect and preserve the sea’s living resources as well as to ensure the conservation and equitable use of resources and the marine environment. Other issues covered by UNCLOS include navigational rights, sovereignty, and usage rights in maritime zones. 166 States had ratified, acceded to, or succeeded to UNCLOS as of January 10, 2014.

International Maritime Organization (IMO)it is a UN body that assists member nations in establishing marine rules and regulations. When a ship sails in member country or international seas, the various conventions established by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) are binding regardless of the ship’s registration with the relevant regulatory body.

The IMO has created four different conventions that cover maritime safety, labor laws, maritime worker training and qualifications, and pollution prevention, as follows:

  1. Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention
  2. Maritime Labor Convention (MLC)
  3. Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) for Seafarers Convention
  4. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)\

Important Judgments –

  1. Wahano v. The Ship MV Yung Yu No. 606 (2001) – High Court of the Solomon Islands, held that in common law, the claims pertaining to maritime lien can also attach to freight or cargo which include catch of fishing vessels.
  2. Maruwa Shokai Inc. v. Pyung Hwa 31 and Ors. (1993) – Supreme Court of federated states of Micronesia held that the claim for maritime lien include transshipment costs as well as necessaries. The court defined “necessaries” by including “things reasonably needed in the business of vessels or ships”.
  3. State of Goa v. Sale Proceeds of the Vessel MT Pratibha Bheema (2018) – At the Panaji Port, a ship was anchored. Later on, it was discovered that the ship encountered a technical issue. The State of Goa, the plaintiff, had to pull the vessel to Mormugao Port because of the unfavorable weather. While docked at the port, the ship was sold in the interim. It should be mentioned that the vessel was in the plaintiff’s region at the time of sale. Because of this, the plaintiff requested a certain amount to be deducted from the selling proceeds. The question for the court to decide was whether the plaintiff’s claim was protected by a maritime lien.
  4. Bank One Louisiana N.A. v. M/V Mr. Dean (2002) – The Court addressed the question of when a maritime lien for charter violation became apparent. The court declared that the case in rem is based on a maritime lien. Perfecting a right is a procedure that is basic as soon as the lien is attached. As a result, the court decided that a maritime lien is attached from the start of a charter.


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