[Burning Issue] The Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019


Context

  • The Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha by the Ministry of External Affairs, Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar this month.
  • The Bill provides for prevention of maritime piracy and prosecution of persons for such piracy-related crimes. 
  • It provides for stringent punishment, including the death penalty, for those involved in piracy at sea.

Why need such a Bill?

  • The introduction of the bill comes days after some 18 Indians aboard a crude oil carrier were kidnapped off the coast of Nigeria.
  • India is still negotiating the release of its nationals.
  • At present, India does not have a separate legislation dealing in piracy, despite the fact that many Indian nationals fall prey to the menace.
  • The provisions of the IPC pertaining to armed robbery and the admiralty jurisdiction of certain courts have been invoked in the past to prosecute pirates apprehended by the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard, it adds.
  • But in the absence of any specific law relating to the offence of maritime piracy in India, problems are being faced in ensuring effective prosecution of the pirates.
  • The Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill 2019 is aimed at promoting the safety and security of India’s maritime trade, and the safety of its crew members.
  • The government’s aim in drafting the proposed legislation was to keep up with India’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which concluded in 1982.
  • India had ratified the UNCLOS in 1995.

About UNCLOS:

  • The Law of the Sea Treaty formally known as the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was adopted in 1982 at Montego Bay, Jamaica.It entered into force in 1994.
  • The convention establishes a comprehensive set of rules governing the oceans and to replace previous U.N. Conventions on the Law of the Sea
  • The convention defines distance of 12 nautical miles from the baseline as Territorial Sea limit and a distance of 200 nautical miles distance as Exclusive Economic Zone limit.

Impact of Maritime Piracy

  • In recent years, thousands of seafarers have been killed, injured, assaulted, taken hostage or threatened as piracy and armed robbery have increased dramatically.
  • Attacks which previously were limited to Nigerian and Somali coastal waters have now expanded eastwards, across the Indian Ocean.

Seafarers

  • Seafarers are on the frontline of the piracy problem.
  • All seafarers transiting the Gulf of Aden and Northern Indian Ocean, have to live with the risk of attack.
  • When ships are attacked by pirates, crews suffer the stress of being fired upon with guns and rocket-propelled grenades and those captured can be held hostage for months. F
  • a piracy attack those involved can be seriously affected by post-traumatic stress.

Shipping Industry

  • For the shipping industry, costs are soaring.
  • Operators now face rising insurance premiums for a high-risk area that now covers most of the Indian Ocean and one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
  • Other costs include installing preventative measures and protection on board, employing private security personnel, as well as ransom payments.

Economic Impact

  • Impact of sea piracy on economic activities is wider.
  • Shipowners are finding it increasingly hard to justify putting seafarers at risk.
  • They are also struggling to find crews that are willing to transit the area.
  • As the situation worsens a blockade of the area becomes more likely. This would add several days to most voyages, would push up transport costs, would see oil prices skyrocket and would have a huge impact on the world economy.
  • If the attacks move further into the Gulf, oil supplies worldwide may be severely affected.

Key features of the Bill include

Defining Piracy

  • The Bill defines piracy as any illegal act of violence, detention, or destruction committed against a ship, aircraft, person or property, for private purposes, by the crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft. 
  • Such acts may be carried out on the high seas or in any place outside the jurisdiction of India.  Inciting or intentionally facilitating such acts would also qualify as piracy. 
  • Piracy also includes voluntary participation in the operations of a pirate ship or aircraft. It also includes any other act that is considered piracy under international law.
  • This includes a ship or aircraft which is either:
  1. intended to be used for committing any act of piracy, or
  2. has been used to commit an act of piracy, and is still under the control of the persons guilty of such act. 

Applicability of the Bill

  • The Bill will apply to all parts of the sea adjacent to and beyond the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone of India. 
  • Exclusive Economic Zone refers to the area of sea to which India has exclusive rights for economic activities.

Offences and penalties

  • An act of piracy will be punishable with: (i) imprisonment for life; or (ii) death, if the act of piracy includes attempted murder, or causes death. 
  • An attempt to commit, aid, abet, or procure for an act of piracy, or directing others to participate in an act of piracy will be punishable with up to 14 years of imprisonment, and a fine.  
  • Offences will be considered extraditable.  This means that the accused can be transferred to any country for prosecution with which India has signed an extradition treaty.  
  • In the absence of such treaties, offences will be extraditable on the basis of reciprocity between the countries.

Arrest and seizure

  • A ship or aircraft under the control of pirates may be seized, persons aboard may be arrested, and the property on board may also be seized. 
  • The seizure may be carried out only by:
  1. a warship or military aircraft of the Indian Navy,
  2. a ship or aircraft of the India Coast Guard, or
  3. ships or aircraft on government service, and authorised for such purpose.

Designated Court

  • The central government, in consultation with the Chief Justice of the concerned High Court, may notify the Sessions Courts to be the Designated Courts under this Bill. 
  • It may also notify the territorial jurisdiction of each Designated Court.

Jurisdiction of the Court

  • The Designated Court will try offences committed by:
  1. a person in the custody of the Indian Navy or Coast Guard, regardless of his nationality,
  2. a citizen of India, a resident foreign nationals in India, or a stateless person. 
  • Further, the Court may try a person even if the person is not physically present in the Court. 
  • The Court will not have jurisdiction over offences committed on a foreign ship unless an intervention is requested by:
  1. the country of origin of the ship,
  2. the shipowner, or
  3. any other person on the ship.
  • Warships and government ships employed for non-commercial purposes will not be under the jurisdiction of the Court.

Presumption of guilt

The presumption of guilt will be on the accused if:

  1. the accused is in possession of arms, explosives and other equipment which were used or intended for use in committing the offence,
  2. there is evidence of use of force against the ship’s crew or passengers, and
  3. there is evidence of the intended use of bombs and arms against the crew, passengers or cargo of a ship.

It was very important to have a domestic anti-piracy legislation to provide the necessary legal framework within the country for the prosecution of those involved in piracy-related crimes and the bill is the right move in the direction.

 



References:

http://prsindia.org/billtrack/anti-maritime-piracy-bill-2019

https://www.livemint.com/news/india/anti-maritime-piracy-bill-introduced-in-lok-sabha-11575893586086.html

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