Merchant Shipping Act - Its intent and purpose



1.1.1. India has been a seafaring nation for centuries. She has built up a glorious maritime history and tradition much before the rise of European maritime powers. The Indian ships used to sail across many seasand carried on prosperous trade with Asian and Middle East countries. Since the advent of British Rule, the development of indigenous shipping industry was discouraged because of preferential treatment given to British shipping. The restrictive British navigational laws not only hindered the growth and development of Indian shipping but gradually made it disappeared from High Seas.

1.1.2. The Indian Merchant Shipping Law as it existed in 19th century has never been on sound footing. The British law was applicable to Indian ships trading in international sea voyages as these ships were required to be registered under U.K. Merchant Shipping Act and therefore, technically they were British Ships although registered in India. The Indian Merchant Shipping Law was nebulous and sketchy. Between the years 1938 to 1947, the following legislation on merchant shipping were held the field (a) The Bombay Coasting Vessels Act, 1938 (b) The Indian Registration of Ships Act, 1841 (as amended in 1950); and (c) The Indian Merchant Shipping Act, 1923. The first of the three enactments referred to above dealt with regulations of seagoing vessels. The 1841 act embodied in it provisions relating to registration of sailing vessels. Both these enactments had, however, been so modelled as to apply only to small coasters and sailing vessels. The third Act, namely, the Indian Merchant Shipping Act, 1923 was fairly comprehensive. Indian Merchant Shipping Law consolidating the provisions of the earlier two acts was supplemented by passing of the Seamen (Litigation) Act, 1946 and Control of Indian Shipping Act, 1947. This Act had, however, only consolidated the laws on merchant shipping and it did not revise the law and therefore, was found wanting in many respects. The provisions of the International Conventions with respect to Load Lines, 1930 and SOLAS, 1948, both of which were ratified by India were later on incorporated through Indian Merchant Shipping Amendment Acts of 1933 and 1953.

1.1.3. Immediately after the independence to suit the requirements of a maritime country like India, the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 was passed by the Indian Parliament. This Act had made good the main deficiency in the earlier laws that they did not provide for registration of what may be termed as Indian Ships. Certain enabling provisions were also incorporated in the Act to accelerate the pace of development of shipping in the post independence period. This Act is divided into 24 parts, each part dealing with specific aspects of merchant shipping like registration of ships , sailing vessels and fishing vessels, National Shipping Board, manning of ships, engagement, discharge and repatriation of seamen and apprentices, safety of passenger and cargo ships, control of Indian ships and ships engaged in the coasting trade, collisions, prevention and control of pollution of the sea by oil from ships, limitation of shipowners' liability, civil liability for oil pollution damage etc.

The different parts of the Act came into force on different dates as indicated below:-

(i) Parts I & II came into force on 15.12.1958;
(ii) Part IV came into force on 17.3.1959;
(iii) Section 7, Part XIV (including Section 405-414), Section 436, (in so far as it relates to offences mentioned against S.Nos. 122 to 125 (both inclusive), Sections 437, 438, 439, 440, 441, 458, 459 and 460 and so much of section 461 and of part I of Schedule as relates to the Control of Shipping Act, 1947 came into force on 1.4.1960;
(iv) The remaining provisions of the original Act (except the amendments made subsequently) came into force w.e.f. 1.1.1961;
(v) Part VIA providing for obligation of certain certificate holders to serve Govt. or in Indian Ships was inserted by amendment Act of 1979 came into force from 4.5.1979;
(vi) Part IXA dealing with nuclear ships inserted by Amendment Act of 1966 came into force from 28.5.1966.
(vii) Part XA giving provisions for limitations of liability of owners in case of certain damages inserted by Amendment Act of 1970, came into force from 15.9.1972; (viii) Part XB giving provisions for civil liability for oil pollution damage was inserted by Amendment Act of 1983 came into force from 18.5.1983;
(ix) Part XVA giving provisions for fishing boats inserted by Amendment Act of 1983 which came into force from 18.5.1983.

1.2.4. Intents and purposes:- The intent and purpose of the Act is explained in the preamble to the Act, which is as follows:-
"An Act to foster the development and ensure the efficient maintenance of an Indian mercantile marine in a manner best suited to serve the national interest and for that purpose to establish a National Shipping Board and to provide for the registration of Indian Ships and generally to amend and consolidate the Law relating to Merchant Shipping”

1.3.1. Amendment of the M.S. Act, 1958 :

The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 has been amended on thirteen occasions since 1958 and the major amendments were made as indicated below :-

(a) In 1966, the provisions of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1960 were inserted in the Act;

(i) The Special Trade Passenger Ship Agreement, 1971 and
(ii) The Protocol on space Requirements for Special Trade Passenger

Ships, 1973. The amended provisions of Law aim at upgrading safety requirements applicable to special Trade Passenger Ships (Formerly known as unberthed Passenger Ships)

(e) In 1979, provision for placing an obligations on the persons obtaining certificates of competency under the Act to serve Government or Indian Ships for a specified period was incorporated in the Act;

(f) In 1981, provisions to enable the Co-operative Societies to own and register ships was incorporated in the Act;

(g) In 1983, the provisions of the International Convention on Control and Prevention of Pollution of Sea by ships in accordance with the amendments to the 1954 Oil Pollution Convention; giving provisions for civil liability for Oil Pollution damage, was incorporated in Part X B of the Act. The 1983 amendment act also provided to insert new provisions for registration of fishing boats, their inspection etc, in Part XVA of the Act,

(h) In 1984 provisions in relation to Welfare of Seamen and insurance of crew of sailing vessels, etc. was incorporated in the Act;

(i) In 1986, Section 80 of the Act regarding grant of certificate of service to naval officers was deleted from the Act, as the International Convention on Standards of training, Certification and Watch-keeping 1978 (to which India is a party) does not permit grant of certificates of service without examination.

(j) In 1986, an Act called the Shipping Development Fund Committee (Abolition) Act,1986 was passed to abolish the SDFC constituted under the M.S. Act, 1958. The Central Government delegated the Shipping credit and Investment Company of India Limited, a Company registered under the Companies Act, 1956 ( 1 of 1956) with all its functions in 1987.

(k) In 1987 provision with regard to manning of ships by certificated officers in accordance with the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping Convention of 1978 was inserted in the Act;

(l) In 1988, provisions of the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, 1969 and its 1976 Protocol was inserted in Part XB of the Act;

(m) In 1993, on the recommendation of the M.S.Act Review Committee, the Sections 21,42,45,51, 412 and 414 of the M.S. Act, 1958 were amended. The Govt. of India in 1991, set up a Review Committee under the Chairmanship of Director General of Shipping to review the Merchant Shipping Act 1958 in its entirety taking into consideration the international conventions which India has ratified but not enacted statutorily. The Committee has gone into depth of the provisions of M.S. Act 1958 and has suggested wide ranging amendments of various sections including the preamble. The intent and purpose of the Act is better explained in the suggested preamble by the Review Committee which now includes to provide for registration of Indian ships, safety.of ships, welfare of seafarers etc. These suggestions/recommendations of the Review Committee are under consideration of the Government to amend the M.S. Act 1958 for incorporating the same. The policy of liberalisation adopted by the Government since 1991 has also been taken care of for inclusion in the Merchant Shipping Act.


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