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Published on: Dec. 17, 2020, 1:41 p.m.
Seafarers hail Merchant Shipping Bill
  • The bill is expected to ensure fairness and justice for seafarers

By Hemang Palan

The ministry for ports, shipping & waterways has issued a draft of the Merchant Shipping Bill, 2020, for public consultation. It aims to repeal and replace the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, and the Coasting Vessels Act, 1838. The bill has been drafted with the primary aim of promoting the growth of the Indian shipping industry, by incorporating the best practices adopted by other advanced countries, such as the US, Japan, the UK, Singapore and Australia.

All up-to-date IMO conventions/protocols, to which India is a party, have been adopted in it. Adequate provisions are also incorporated to ensure the safety and security of vessels, safety of life at sea, prevent marine pollution, provide for maritime liabilities and compensations, and ensure comprehensive adoption of India’s obligations under international conventions.

The envisioned advantages of the Merchant Shipping Bill, 2020 are: Promoting ease of doing business: The bill does away with requirement of general trading licence for Indian vessels.

Embracing digital technology: It enables electronic means of registration, and grants statutory recognition to electronic agreements, records, and log books, in addition to electronic licences, certificates and payments.

Increasing tonnage and vessel as a tradable asset: The bill seeks to increase India’s tonnage by widening the eligibility criteria for ownership of vessels and providing for the registration of bareboat charter cum demise, thereby increasing opportunities for international trade.

India as a bankable shipping jurisdiction & avoidance of situations leading to wreck: The proposed bill seeks to introduce for the first time, statutory framework for regulating maritime emergency response against maritime incidents. The provisions seek to provide for time-effective implementation of response mechanisms, to ensure that the same is prevented from becoming a wreck or other catastrophic event.

Welfare of Indian seafarers on abandoned vessels and safety of abandoned vessels: Provisions for repatriation of abandoned seafarers have been enhanced in line with the MLC regulations.

Strengthening adjudication and predictability of claims: To strengthen the investigation and adjudication of claims arising out of collision of vessels, assessors may be tasked by the High Courts to present their findings on the degrees of fault of each vessel.

India as an active enforcement jurisdiction: The bill incorporates powers of the Director General to take action against vessels that are unsafe and pose a threat to safety of life at sea and the environment. It includes a procedure for appeal from detention orders. The bill also incorporates provisions that encourage active enforcement of pollution prevention standards and the Central government has been granted the power to mandate compulsory insurance or such other financial security, for pollution damage.

  • s per the bill, a general trading licence for Indian vessels is no longer mandatory and this is a bold and welcome step to promote ease of doing business, which in turn will have a favourable impact on Indian tonnage

The bill seeks to provide increased opportunities for investment and provide greater impetus to a self-reliant domestic investment climate in the maritime industry. The provisions regulating the maritime education, training, certification and the recruitment and placement of seafarers and ease of registration of ships under the Indian flag will give an impetus to the quality and quantity of Indian seafarers. Consequently, it will boost employment opportunities for Indian seafarers.

Impetus to seafaring

“The ongoing formalities for the Merchant Shipping Bill, 2020, are a welcome and much-needed step taken by the ministry,” says Amar Singh Thakur, general secretary, The Maritime Union. “As per the bill, a general trading licence for Indian vessels is no longer mandatory and this is a bold and welcome step to promote ease of doing business, which in turn will have a favourable impact on Indian tonnage. We, as a Seafarers Union, would like to support the introduction of articles that promote the global share of Indian seafarers, which has acquired more importance in the face of the worldwide slowdown since the past decade and now due to the Corona pandemic.”

“We would like to see more checks put in place through this Merchant Shipping Bill against unscrupulous Recruitment and Placement of Seafarers Licence (RPSL) agencies and Maritime Training Institutes (MTIs),” Thakur adds. “Seafarers are exploited by such RPSL agencies. MTIs should be monitored with regard to attendance of the classes, quality of training imparted, appropriate fee structure of courses, issuance of certificates”.

This bill will also ensure fairness and justice for seafarers as relevant references have been made with regard to seamen’s payment of wages, allotments, special provisions for protection of seafarers in respect of litigation, referring disputes between seafarers and employers to tribunal and such other finance-related conditions.

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