Panel Discussion on Maritime Law

Date: March 29, 2019

The 6th NLUO – Bose & Mitra & Co. International Maritime Arbitration Moot Court Competition, 2019 (IMAM) was followed by the 1st Panel Discussion hosted by the Centre for Maritime Law, NLUO. The theme of the discussion was Emerging Regime of Maritime Law in India.

The discussion was preceded with the release of the Moot Compendium comprising of moot problems and best memorials of the last five editions of IMAM.

The panel consisted of eminent personalities in the field of Maritime Law namely, Mr. Ashok Mohapatra who has been the Director, Maritime Safety Division, International Maritime Organization (UN). He is not only the first Indian to be appointed to this post, but also the first from any developing country. Our second panelist was Senior Advocate V.J. Mathew, who is a noted personality and a well known maritime lawyer. He is the current Chairman of Kerela State Maritime Board and the Managing Partner of VJ Mathew & Co., an International law firm having its offices accross the globe. Mr. Deven Choudhary, who is our alumnus, and presently Shipping Claim Analyst at Scorpio Marine Management Ltd., Mumbai . From the time of being a law student, he has had keen interest in Maritime Law. He also drafted the Moot Proposition of the 6th edition of NLUO – Bose & Mitra & Co. International Maritime Arbitration Moot Court Competition, 2019. Our fourth panelist and also the Moderator of the session was Mr. Pallab Das. He is the our beloved Faculty Advisor and teaches Maritime law at NLUO. He started his legal career as a Civil Judge in Sabalpur, then entered into litigation in Orissa High Court, eventually landing into academics in NLUO. Mr. Das is also a Pioneer Member of the Asian Institute of Alternative Dispute Resolution (Malaysia) and Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (London).

The Panelist were first asked to speak on topics of their choice which was then followed by question-answer session by the moderator and the audience.

The first Panelist to speak at the event was Capt. Ashok Mohapatra.

Mr. Mohaparta focused on the fact that Maritime Industry and Maritime Law as a career is not something which a lot of people, especially lawyers seem to opt for. Due to this, there is a vast lack of knowledge amongst the public and other professionals in the industry about what Maritime Law actually is. Various International rules, regulations and Conventions have been adopted by India, however, hardly any have been incorporated as a national legislation in order to be effective.

One needs to understand the implications of such neglection. An example was given about India neglecting the Marrakesh treaty on marine pollution and how it resulted in great environmental damage in the Indian Ocean by foreign ships who could not be prosecuted by the Indian courts for the same due to lack of jurisdiction and laws that may have prevented the same.

The only way this could be solved is by realizing that a lot still needs to be done. There are many issues that can and do arise while formulating Indian Laws, especially on Admiralty. The biggest Challenge in Maritime Law is that no precedent is there to make money in the sector commercially. There are hardly any lawyers with expertise in Maritime Law in India. Even though the new Admiralty Act, 2017 has come up, there is still very little knowledge that the Indian legal community has on the same. For the sector to emerge, sensitization of the judiciary and the lawyers is very necessary because 70% of the world is water and water is nothing but Maritime.

The second panelist to address the audience was Mr. V.J. Mathew.

He started with brief history of Maritime Industry and Maritime Law ranging from the colonial period to what it is today. He stated that Shipping in India, today, is mainly controlled by the Ministry of Shipping and Marine Boards around the country. However, the problem which lies in the control of the maritime industry is that there are very few Marine Boards around the country, and this makes the entire administrative situation quite difficult. Various guidelines given by the Centre exist, however, not all states have Marine Boards to control shipping activities.

There has been great evolution and development in maritime law in India over the years, especially following the landmark judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in M.V. Elisabeth And Ors v. Harwan Investment And Trading Pvt. Ltd. [ 1992 SCR (1)1003] and the recommendations of Law Commission of India. The Indian legislature finally passed the Admiralty Act, 2017 dealing with jurisdiction of High Courts in India and various other admiralty issues in apt manner. The Act deals with issues like salvage, arrest of vessel, pilotage, bunker, fuel, perishable goods, etc. It gives power to the High Courts to invoke admiralty jurisdiction in cases of maritime claim and lien. The High Courts have also been given the power to arrest any vessel and sell them if any dispute arises.

He further explained that the new Act repeals old statutes such as (a) The Admiralty Courts Act, 1861; (b) The Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, 1890; (c) The Colonial Courts of Admiralty (India) Act, 1891; (d) The Provisions of Letters Patent, 1865, which conferred admiralty jurisdiction on the High Court of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. The new Act extends the admiralty jurisdiction to all the High Courts situated in coastal states i.e. High Court of Gujarat, Bombay, Karnataka, Kerela, Madras, Hyderabad, Orissa and Calcutta. Mr. Mathew also emphasised that there is a dearth of good maritime lawyers in the field and encouraged the participants to pursue career in maritime law.  

The 3rd panelist was Mr. Deven Choudhary, who is the moot drafter of this year’s IMAM. His love for maritime law has been there since his third year. He was keen sure that he shall opt Maritime Law as a career. However, he sees that not many young and budding lawyers are keen in pursuing it as a career. There seems to be lack of information about the same.    

His primary focus was on sanctions under maritime Law and international trade. He emphasised sanctions keep on changing rapidly even on day to day basis. The practice of issuing sanctions goes back to 400 BC when it was used as a pressure tactic and was more about embargos related to trade since maximum trade was done by the sea.

Today, issuing sanctions is a very common practice among nations at the time of any disagreement or disputes between the parties. Shipping Industry is the most popular industry where sanctions are issued as more than 70% of the trade is done by the ships. Various forms of sanctions have come up. Like the Smart Sanction issued by the US on Iran at the time of its invasion of Kuwait.  Another form of sanction is imposed on Pacific Designation Nationals by various states. Majorly, we see US, UK, and the EU imposing regulations and sanctions over certain entities and countries. Sanctions and the nature of its implications vary from region to region and the political relationship the nations have however, the purpose and objective of imposing them always remain the same.

The 4th and the last panelist of the discussion was Mr. Pallab Das.

Mr. Das focused on the future of the shipping industry: the applicability of Artificial Intelligence. He gave the example of the initiative taken by Rolls-Royce to develop autonomous and automated ship designs. AI means what humans can do, machines should too. Currently, AI has the ability to generate language and self-improvement without any human help. AI is seen to have been vastly used and experimented on vehicles like Tesla.

He further pointed out the difference between autonomous (no external aid required) and automated vehicles and stated that main focus has been on remote controlled automated designs when it comes to cares. In the shipping industry, the focus is more on autonomous vessels. Rolls-Royce have been able to develop both. Once the ship goes to the high sea, it becomes completely autonomous rather than automated. Such ships very helpful for environmental regulations. However, various legal barriers still exist. Questions with regard to liability of the ship owner and the pilot at the time of an accident or damage, the question of seaworthiness, etc. always crops up. Another question comes up with regard to duty of every vessel to render help to any ship in distress at the seas which cannot be done by an autonomous ship as no human is present. The only thing it can do is warn or alert the other nearby ships about the same.

However, its positive aspects win over the legal problems that can be over time rectified and addressed. The AI in the shipping industry shall be of massive use and can open a window of opportunity in the Indian Shipping Industry as well making it a backbone of the growth of the Indian Economy.