The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958

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The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 is a comprehensive legislation which came into force on 15th December, 1958 however, Section 1 of the Act mentions that different parts of sections came into force on different dates of the Act. Prior to this legislation, Indian merchant shipping act, 1923 was enacted which was according to the UK Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. It was the first legislation in India related to merchant shipping after which merchant shipping act, 1958 legislated after independence.

The objective of merchant shipping act, 1958 (hereinafter referred to as “The Act”) is to promote the Indian mercantile marine and in order to achieve it, a National Shipping Board should be constituted where the Indian ships would be registered.  In order to fulfill this objective, several amendments were made to this Act so that it should be in consonance with the international law as well.

Merchant shipping act, 1958 consists of 461 sections which are divided into 18 parts. Part 1 contains the provision related to definition of the related terms and Part 2 contains the constitution and function of National Shipping Board. National Shipping Board is a statutory body which has been constituted under section 4 of the Act. The body would consist of sixteen members who would represent the central government, ship owners and seamen; however, there would be an equal number of members representing the ship owners and seamen. Among the members, one would be selected to be the Chairman of the Board. The board members shall be vested with the power to regulate its own procedure.  The primary function of the Board would be to advise the Central government on matters relating to Indian shipping and its development.

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Part 4 constitutes of Shipping Development Fund. The fund would be credited with those grants which the Central Government permit to credit in the fund. A Shipping Development Fund committee would be formed consisting of a chairman and six other members. It would be a body corporate consisting of a perpetual succession and a common seal. Any loans advanced to the committee for fulfilling the object of the fund would also be credited to the shipping development fund. Moreover, if any repayment is made to the fund or any dividends or interests has been realized to the fund, in that case, those repayments or dividends would be credited to the fund itself.  Hence, these are the mentioned channels from where the money will be deposited in to the fund however, clause (d) of section 14 open up the channel of depositing money by providing that if any sums would be received for depositing in the fund, it would be done accordingly. The fund would be applied in meeting the expenses of the committee and advancing the loan for maintenance and acquisition of ships. The committee would also keep proper accounts and maintain records and prepare annual statements which would be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

Part 5 deals with registration of Indian ships. The first section to this part that is section 20 itself clarifies the definition of “ships”. It provides that this part would be applicable only for those sea going ships which have a propelling force attached to it and not the static ships.  Clause (41) of section 3 explain this definition further by providing that the ships which goes beyond inland waters or to waters which are declared by the central government to be totally or partially smooth would be called as sea going ships. This part also provides that any ships would not be deemed to be an Indian ship unless it is owned by the person who is a citizen of India or by any company if the principal place of business is India or seventy five percent or any percentage, specified by the central government as notified, of the share capital should be held by an Indian citizen or the three fourth of the total number of directors of the company is citizen of India or the chairman of the board of the company or managing director of the company is the citizen of India. Also the ships which are lower than fifteen tons and is employed solely for navigation on the coast of India would be considered for registration.

A glimpse has been given to some of the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958. However, in order to enable India to accede to International law, two amendment bills have been drafted. The Merchant Shipping (Amendment) Bill, 2013 has been made in order to make the Indian law conform to International Convention for the Control of Harmful Anti – Fouling Systems on Ships, 2001. The said convention seek to protect the marine environment and human health from the effect of anti – fouling paints which are used to coat ships’ surfaces. The Merchant Shipping (second amendment) bill, 2013 has been made in order to comply with International Labor Organization’s Maritime Labor Convention, 2006. The said convention discusses about the standard of living and working conditions of seafarers including their food, accommodation, medical care and social security. Therefore, these two bills would amend the merchant shipping act of 1958.

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by Neha Dayal.