The Merchant Shipping Bill, 2020 (Part II)

The Press Note issued by the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways states that the Bill is drafted with the primary aim of promoting the growth of Indian Shipping Industry by incorporating best practices from U.S, Japan, U.K, Singapore and Australia.

Some of the notable changes in this bill are following:

Abandoned Vessel : It is peculiar that the term Abandoned vessel has been defined twice in the Bill. It is defined in Section 3(2) and Section 318. Section 3(2) states that ‘abandoned vessel’ as a vessel which has been abandoned and deserted by the owner or ship owner or the master of the vessel without any hope of recovering it or whose owner or ship owner is unknown or cannot be traced or has failed to fulfil his fundamental obligation under the Merchant Shipping Act or whose master has bee left without financial means in respect of its operation and includes any vessel falling within Section 318. Section 319 of the Bill deals with the power of Central Government in respect of Abandoned vessels. It states that the Central Government may take actions towards ascertainment of the condition of the condition and towards safe and environmentally resolution of the situation. The cost incurred to the Central Government for taking any measures constitutes a debt due to the Central Government and it shall have first priority after Claims for wages and Claims for loss of life/personal injury under the Admiralty Act, 2017.

Abandoned Seafarer : The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 uses the term ‘seaman’ which has been changed to ‘seafarer’ in the bill. The bill defines Abandoned Seafarer under Section 2(3) which states that an abandoned seafarer refers a seafarer who is deemed to have been abandoned, in violation of Maritime Labour Convention or Seafarers’ employment agreement, where the ship owner fails to cover the cost of the seafarer’s repatriation or has left the seafarer without the necessary maintenance and support or has unilaterally severed their ties with the seafarer including failure to pay contractual wages for a period of at least two months. Considering the increasing number of cases where the seafarers are denied their wages for months, including such a situation in the definition may afford more protection for the seafarers.

Further, Section 5 of the Bill deals with constitution of Seafarer Welfare Board which is also provided under MS Act, 1958 as National Welfare Board of Seafarers. The Bill adds an additional responsibility to the Board. It states that the Board may advise the Central Government regarding the measures to be taken in the case of foreign seafarer who is abandoned in the Indian waters.

What appears is that the bill has also taken mental well being of the seafarers into account as the Bill states that the Ship owners shall provide and maintain decent accommodation and recreational facilities for seafarers.

The Bill guanratees more protections and provisions regarding welfare of Seafarers.

Maritime Emergency Response : Part X of the Bill seeks to establish a nodal authority for Maritime Emergency Response. The nodal authority shall administer and supervise the marine incident and the corresponding maritime emergency response. The nodal authority under Part X has authority to issue directions to the administrative bodies under the Central Government and State Government.

Insurances : As per the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, it is mandatory to take insurance for the members of the crew of the sailing vessel (Section 434A) and to take insurance to cover oil pollution (Section 352N).

As per Section 173 of the Bill, Compulsory insurance policy is required to be taken to cover Maritime Claims as per the Limitations applicable. Section 175 states that rules shall be published by the Central Government which may also include accepted list of insurers. The Ship owners also shall maintain compulsory insurance to cover maritime emergencies as per Section 231 of the Bill. The insurance to cover pollution are also mandatory as per Section 189 (For ships carrying more than 2000 tons of oil) and Section 205 (For ships having gross tonnage more than 1000 tons). Section 248 also requires that compulsory insurance is maintained to cover wrecks.

In my opinion, this bill is beneficial for the seafarers as it provides wider protections and benefits. Marine Insurance industry may receive a boost considering the fact that the bill has included mandatory insurances. With regard to the Maritime Emergency Response, time will tell whether this authority would act as liaison for state and central authorities and would become a one point contact for all marine incidents.

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