Maritime law in India was developed under the British Raj. Typically, maritime laws are a set of rules and regulations which govern matters relating to the sea and sea-going ships and other offshore maritime property.  Black’s Law Dictionary defines maritime law as “the body of law governing marine commerce and navigation, the carriage of persons and property, and marine affairs in general; the rules governing contract, tort and workers’ compensation claims or relating to commerce on or over water.

Maritime law in India was re-codified by Parliament by the enactment of The Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Act, 2017 (“Admiralty Act”). It was a much awaited legislation which codified and consolidated the rules and regulations relating to enforcement and claims of maritime law, including the law of arrest, as well as to incorporate and codify the principles of International Conventions into Indian Law. The Admiralty Act repealed all the other British-era laws. 

Ship Arrests

A procedure which prevents a ship from trading or sailing until the problem at hand is resolved is called known as ship arrest. In order to secure a maritime claim an exclusive jurisdiction is granted to an admiralty court to detain a vessel. Ship arrest is a civil law admiralty procedure which involves “the detention of a ship by judicial process to secure a maritime claim, but does not include the seizure of a ship in execution or satisfaction of a judgment.

Arrest of vessel under Admiralty Act 

The Admiralty Act provides for the procedure for arrest of a vessel on the fulfillment of some conditions namely:

  1. The owner or demise/bareboat charterer of a ship at the time the maritime claim arose is liable for the claim and is the owner of the vessel when the arrest is effected;
  2. The vessel is within the territorial jurisdiction of the admiralty court;
  3. prima facie case is made out for the arrest of the vessel by the admiralty court.

Procedure of Ship Arrest

Typically, any domestic or foreign ship may be detained for a maritime claim by an order of arrest by an admiralty court. There are some particulars that should be incorporated in an arrest application, which are, the nature of the claim; reasons for the claim not having been fulfilled; the name of the ship or her sister ship; the nature of the property to be arrested; the name and port of registry; the ownership of the property; and last but not least, the amount of security sought. In such cases, if the admiralty court finds it appropriate to order the arrest, the ship or maritime property becomes a security to satisfy the claim. 

Prevention of Ship Arrest

The incidences of ship arrests can be prevented especially when the owner of the ship is aware of the claim being invoked against him. Prevention is important especially since a ship is used for commercial purposes and arrest will invariablycause a huge financial loss to the owner. The owner should try to foresee a claim and prevent it by filing a caveat against the potential arrest.

Release of the Ship ArrestedAn arrested ship may be released only if the admiralty court that arrested her allows release. Release may be sought by providing an alternate security for the ship in the form of cash or bank guarantee. The security is often not immediately paid out to the claimant. The admiralty court will only accept the security, release the ship and hold the security in escrow until it decides the merits of the dispute between the claimant and the ship owner. This enables an owner to have a ship released and seek a refund of the security by showing that the arrest was unmeritorious or wrongful in some manner. However, if there arises any dispute over the value of the claim, the claimant is bound to provide an undertaking to pay on demand all the expenses related to the arrest of ships. 

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