BBA LLB, Second Year
BVDU New Law College, Pune
The Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019 was presented in Lok Sabha by the Ministry of External Affairs, Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, on December 9, 2019. The bill provides for rigorous punishment, including the death penalty for being involved in piracy at sea.
Maritime piracy is the looting, stealing or detaining of a ship in international waters. Bill defines piracy under Section 2(f) as an act of criminal violence by ship or boat-borne attackers upon another ship or a coastal area, to steal goods and other valuable items or properties.
Piracy also includes willful involvement in the operations of a pirate ship. For example, a ship which is either used or intended of being used to commit any act of piracy and is still under the influence of the people guilty of such activity.
Such acts may be executed on the high seas or in any place outside the dominion of India. Impelling or deliberately encouraging such activities also qualifies as an offence. It also includes any other activity that is considered piracy under international law.
The Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019 is aimed towards the safety and security of India’s maritime trade and of its crew members. The contents of the bill accessible on the Lok Sabha website says that government’s aim in drafting the proposed legislation was also to stay up with India’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which was ratified in 1995 by India.
However, the scheme for the first time was announced before the United Nations in the year 1973. It took nine years and representations from over 160 countries for UNCLOS to come into existence.
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) also referred to as The Law of the Sea treaty lays down exhaustive rules of law and order of the world’s oceans and seas. It encourages amicable use of the seas and oceans, facilitates international communications, enables efficient utilization of ocean assets and also preserves the marine life.
Applicability of the bill extends to all parts of seas and oceans also beyond the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone. Exclusive Economic Zones are the areas where a state presumes there jurisdiction for exploration and exploitation of marine resources adjacent to their continental state. It extends to a distance of 200 nautical miles i.e. 370 km.
It was also noted the incidents of piracy had been growing since 2008 expeditiously. Over the years, many sailors have been killed, harmed, assaulted, abducted and robbed. They’ve been severely affected and suffering post-traumatic stress till date. Not only sailors but shipping companies are facing issues too. The rapid increase in costs due to rising insurance premiums for high-risk areas which covers a major part of the Indian Ocean now has led shipping companies to suffer losses. Other costs include installing preventive measure on board, ransom amounts, etc. Shipping companies are finding it hard to employ and justify putting sailors at risk.
The bill came into the presentation a few days after 18 Indians aboard a petroleum tanker were abducted from the coast of Nigeria.
The Gulf of Aden encountered major leap in attacks by pirates of Somalia. About 2000 ships each month trade between Asia and Europe and the East Coast of Africa. With the evolved and enhanced naval presence in the Gulf of Aden, pirates shifted their area of operation towards East and South. This led to an increase in pirate attacks towards the western coast of India. This also affected oil supplies worldwide. Giving in a rise to the need for an adequate Anti-piracy Law. Even though many Indians are exposed to such danger and are affected by, due to lack of any specific law for the maritime Piracy in India, problems are faced by the individuals.
Essential contents of the Anti-Maritime Bill, 2019 are explained hereunder:
Section 3 of the Bill says Whoever commits any act of piracy, He/She shall be punished either with imprisonment for life or death if the person while committing the act causes death or even an attempt thereof.
Section 4 and 5 of the Bill says whoever attempts to commit, aid, abet or direct others to participate in any activity of piracy will be punishable with up to 14 years of imprisonment and also be liable to fine.
Section 7 of the Bill talks about arrest and seizure, A ship if under the control of pirates must be seized along with the people and property on board. The seizure must be carried out by Indian navy warships or ship of the Indian Coast guard or ships authorized by the government for such purposes.
Section 8 talks about designated court for the trial of an offence under this act, the Central Government after consulting the Chief Justice of the concerned High Court may notify certain sessions courts to be designated courts under this bill. It may also notify each court their territorial jurisdiction.
Section 9 talks about Jurisdiction of the designated courts, it will try offences committed by a person in custody of the Indian Navy, be it a citizen of India, a resident foreign national in India, or a person with no nationality or citizenship. The court will not have the jurisdiction for offences committed on a foreign ship unless the country of origin of the ships requests so or the shipowner or any other person on the ship requests so. Government ships or warships if assigned for noncommercial purposes will not be under the jurisdiction of the court.
Section 11 talks about presumption of guilt, it lies on the accused if he/she has or owns arms, explosives and other equipment which were used or had the intention of being used in committing the offence of piracy. Also, if found that force or threat was used against the ship’s crew in any form then the designated court shall presume the accused to be guilty unless the contrary is proved.
Though after this bill was presented, Mr Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament raised an objection saying, “the provision of the automatic death penalty was against the law and would make it difficult for India to negotiate with other countries where capital punishment is not on the statutes.”
External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said ”the bill does not have automatic death penalty provision. The bill had provided for life imprisonment, as well as the death penalty, the latter not being the automatic first punishment for acts of piracy.”
The Bill concludes that maritime piracy and armed robbery is an international crime and needs to be looked upon by policymakers. The crime rate is increasing. It is realized that piracy is affecting international travelling in waters especially the ships, vessels, and seafarers and that it has economic implications for the international maritime industry. It is concluded based on the reports by several international agencies that Nigeria is found to be the country with the highest rate of maritime piracy and armed robbery in 2019.
This is a good effort especially if it is implemented effectively. The major weakness identified is the lack of implementation of designed laws in the country for several decades and lack of political will in addressing the issue in addition to inadequate sophisticated and untrained security agencies that can undertake the assignment of monitoring the seas. The law is well-articulated and adequately designed, but the issue is the effective utilization.