The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 was at first modeled after the U.K Merchant Shipping Act, 1894 which was replaced by Indian Merchant Shipping Act of 1923.
After Independence, the new conditions were carefully taken note of, and though late, a comprehensive piece of legislation was passed by the Indian Parliament in 1958. However, International shipping was itself in doldrums of technological, political and economic changes in the world and made the “Inter Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation” an effective body to regulate world shipping. Today, under the new name “International Maritime Organisation”.
It is an organ of the United Nations and regulates Global Maritime Law. India being a Maritime Nation, and a member of the IMO has to ratify the changes approved by IMO and incorporate the same subsequently in its National Legislation. Therefore, the Merchant
Shipping Act, 1958 has been modified ten times till 22nd May, 1987 and all the amendments have been incorporated in this volume. Currently India being a signatory to the Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping of the IMO, has made new Rules for examination of Deck Officers.
Consequently, Part VI, of the Present Act has been amended in this edition. The most important changes that have been incorporated since 1980 pertain to ownership of the shares of a ship which can now be held by a Co-operative Society which is duly registered in any of the States of India under appropriate law made under the Central Act No. 12 of 1912. Similarly the Fishing vessels and Sailing vessels have been given their due place in the Act.
Marine pollution and its prevention has taken an important place and fines have been very heavy in cases of violation of laws.
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The development of the Merchant Shipping Law in India has had a long history of over a century. The first Act on the subject, passed by the British Parliament, was the Lascars Act, 1823. This Act, which was partly repealed later, enabled rules to be made by the Indian Legislature to be observed by “Masters and Officers, Owners of ships and vessels trading under the authority of the Act.”
There was further legislation enacted by the British Parliament, under the authority of which the Indian Registration of Ships Act of 1841 was passed in India.
The next Statute, the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894 has been the most important Act of the British Parliament relating to Merchant Shipping and this Act has consolidated all the earlier Parliamentary legislation and also defined the application of the British Acts to India and other parts of the British Empire. There is a long string of Acts passed subsequently now constructed as part of the 1894 Act. It is noteworthy that legislation in India was only possible under the authority conferred by the English Parliamentary Statutes.
The basis of the present Indian Law
In the light of the above historical background, it could be neither feasible nor desirable for India to adopt a completely divergent path in regard to its merchant shipping laws after her Independence. The British laws were basically sound in their technical application and merit and the I.M.S. Act of 1958 rightly takes its inspiration from the following two major sources :–
(a) International Conventions :
The merchant shipping law deals mainly with technical matters and many of these are regulated by International Conventions like the Safety Pollution ,Limitation of Liability, Prevention of Collisions and Loadline Convention, the I.L.O. Conventions, etc.
(b) The U.K. law on Merchant Shipping : In 1931, the U.K. and the various Dominion Governments entered into the Commonwealth Merchant Shipping Agreement which provided that for various matters like registration, standards of safety, ship’s articles, certificates of officers, ship enquiries, etc., the law throughout the Commonwealth should as far as possible, be uniform. Although India was not a party to this Agreement as she was not a Dominion in 1931, she had adhered to the Commonwealth arrangements to the extent that was possible and desirable.
The basic structure of the law as visualised by the 1958 Act has, therefore, been similar to that of the Commonwealth countries with, of course, certain essential modifications where special arrangements to suit Indian conditions were considered necessary.
However, it would not be incorrect to state that the provisions of the new Act do not register any radical departure from the existing
British laws except in respect of a couple of important matters. The most fundamental change introduced by the I.M.S. Act, 1958, departing radically from the position created by the repealed British Act, relates to the sphere of registration of ships. As such the
English Court decisions in particular before the coming into force of M.S. Act 1958 have material impact in India.