India’s ministry of ports, shipping and waterways recently issued a draft of the Merchant Shipping Bill, 2020, for public consultation. It aims to replace the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, and the Coasting Vessels Act, 1838. The new bill has been drafted to promote the growth of the shipping industry by incorporating the best practices adopted by advanced nations.

All up-to-date International Maritime Organisation (IMO) conventions and protocols, to which India is a party, have been adopted in it, according to an official release.

Adequate provisions are 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 bill does away with requirement of general trading license for Indian vessels, enables electronic means of registration, grants statutory recognition to electronic agreements, records and log books, in addition to electronic licenses, certificates and payments.

It 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.

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 in order to ensure that the same is prevented from becoming a wreck or other catastrophic event.

There are also enhanced provisions for repatriation of abandoned seafarers in line with the Maritime Labour Convention regulations.

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 environment, and includes a procedure for appeal from detention orders.

It 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. 

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