Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill 2019 – Need, Features, Criticism

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External Affairs Minister S.Jaishankar, on December 9, 2019, introduced Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha. The introduction of the Bill comes days after 18 Indians aboard a crude oil carrier were kidnapped off the coast of Nigeria. This Bill provides for stringent punishment, including the death penalty to those who are involved in acts of maritime piracy. It was criticised by the opposition for the inclusion of the death penalty. It was referred to the parliamentary standing committee on external affairs chaired by former Union Minister P.P.Choudhary.

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What is Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019?

  • Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019 aims to promote the safety and security of India’s maritime trade and the safety of its crewmembers.
  • The Bill states that the purpose of drafting this proposed legislation was to keep up with India’s commitment to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that was concluded in 1982.

What are the Indian laws that deal with piracy?

  • Despite signing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982 and ratifying it in 1995, India does not have a domestic anti-piracy law yet.
  • Crimes related to maritime piracy is always dealt with under the Indian Penal Code pertaining to armed robbery and the admiralty jurisdiction of certain courts.
  • However, the absence of any specific laws relating to the offence of maritime piracy in India is an issue that hinders the efficient prosecution of the pirates.

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What are the impacts of maritime piracy?

In recent years, there is an increase in incidences of seafarers either being killed, injured, assaulted, threatened or taken hostages through piracy and armed robbers. Previously, incidences that were mostly limited to Nigerian and Somali coastal waters have moved eastwards, across the Indian Ocean. The dimension of piracy threats include the following:

  • The threat to life: Seafarers are the most vulnerable to the threat of piracy. All those individuals who are travelling through the Gulf of Aden and Northern Indian Ocean are at constant risk of piracy. When attacked by pirates, crews’ fear of getting killed or being shot at, leads to them later suffering from the post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Economic threat: Shipping Industry suffers from increasing cost of insurance premiums for high-risk areas including most of the Indian Ocean. Other costs include the need for installation of preventive measures and providing protection on-board by employing private security personnel as well as payment of ransoms. This leads to a decrease in crewmembers and an increase in transportation costs.

What are the key features of Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019?

The salient features of the Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill include the following:

Application:

  • The Bill applies to all parts of the sea adjacent to and beyond the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
  • EEZ is the area of sea in which India has exclusive rights for undertaking economic activities.

Definition of Piracy:

  • According to the Bill, piracy is any illegal activity that involves violence, detention or destruction that is committed against a ship, aircraft, person or property, for private purposes, by the crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft.
  • These actions may be carried out on high seas or in any place outside India’s jurisdiction. Inciting or intentional facilitation of such acts will also be under the ambit of piracy.
  • It also includes any other activity that is considered to be piracy under international law.
  • Furthermore, the term ‘piracy’ also means voluntary participation in operations of a pirate ship or aircraft. This includes a ship or an aircraft that is either:
  • Going to be used for committing any act of piracy, or
  • Has been used to commit an act of piracy and is still under the control of those who are guilty of such an act.

Offences and penalties:

  • An act of piracy is punishable with:
  • Imprisonment for life; or
  • Death, if the act includes attempted murder or causes death.
  • The act of committing, aiding, abetting or procuring for an act of piracy, or directing others to participate in the act of piracy will lead to imprisonment up to 14 years, and a fine.
  • Offences will be considered extraditable, which means that the accused will be transferred to any country for prosecution with which India has signed an extradition treaty. If such treaties are absent, offences will be extraditable based on 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 be seized only by:
  • A warship or military aircraft of the Indian Navy
  • A ship or aircraft on government service authorised for such purpose.

Designated courts:

  • As per the Bill, the Central Government, in consultation of the Chief Justice of the concerned High Court, can notify Sessions Courts to be Designated Courts.
  • The Centre can also notify the territorial jurisdiction of each Designated Court.

Courts’ jurisdiction:

  • The Designated Court will try offences committed by:
  • An individual in custody of the Indian Navy or Coast Guard, regardless of the nationality,
  • An Indian citizen, a resident foreign nationals in India, or a stateless person.
  • Additionally, the court may even try a person who is not physically present in the Court.
  • The court doesn’t have jurisdiction over offences committed on a foreign ship unless an intervention is requested by:
  • The country to which the ship belongs,
  • The owner of the concerned ship or
  • Any other individual on the ship
  • Furthermore, the court does not have jurisdiction over warships and government ships used for non-commercial purposes.

Presumption of guilt:

  • The presumption of guilt will be on the accused if:
  • The accused has arms, explosives and other equipment that were used or intended to be used in committing the offence,
  • There is evidence of the use of force against the ship’s crew members or passengers, and
  • There is evidence of the intended use of bombs and arms against the crew, passengers or cargo of a ship.

Why do we need Anti-maritime Piracy Bill, 2019?

  • The Bill is in accordance with India’s commitment to the UNCLOS.
  • The Bill was presented in the parliament days after 18 Indians were kidnapped by pirates from commercial vessels near the Nigerian coast on December 3. They have later been released.
  • India currently does not have separate domestic legislation on piracy, leading to difficulty in enforcing effective prosecution of the pirates.
  • The Indian Penal Codes are applicable only up to the territorial waters.
  • There is an increase in piracy incidents since 2008. The Gulf of Aden is seeing a slight increase in pirate attacks from Somalia. This route is used about 2,000 ships each month for trade between Asia and Europe and the East Coast of Africa. Due to increasing international naval presence in the Gulf of Aden, pirates shifted their areas of operations eastwards and southwards.

What is the criticism of the Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019?

  • Under section three of the Bill, anyone who commits the act of piracy shall be punished with either life imprisonment or death, if such individual in committing the act of piracy causes death or an attempt thereof.
  • This provision was protested by the opposition as the “automatic” award of the death penalty for acts of piracy is against the law.
  • However, the External Affairs Minister pointed out that the Bill provides for life imprisonment, as well as the death penalty, the latter not being the automatic first punishment for the acts of piracy. This would consequently mean that the death penalty under this Bill will be a rare phenomenon.
  • Furthermore, the Supreme Court of India had earlier held that the death penalty should be imposed only in “the rarest of rare cases”.
  • The “rarest of rare cases” here means the cases, which involves a murder that is committed in an extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical, revolting or dastardly fashion to arouse intense and extreme indignation of the country.
  • According to the IPC along with other acts, 11 offences committed within the Indian Territory are punishable by death. These include:
  1. Being a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit a capital offence
  2. Waging or attempt to wage or abetting waging war against the government of India
  3. Abetting a mutiny in the armed forces or engaging in a mutiny
  4. Giving false evidence to procure the conviction of a capital offence
  5. Murder
  6. Abetting suicide of a minor
  7. Kidnapping
  8. Rape leading to death or vegetative state or repeat offender of rape
  9. Banditry murder
  10. Aiding or abetting the act of Sati
  11. Repeat offences of drug trafficking

Conclusion:

A separate law that explicitly deals with piracy is vital for India, as the majority of Indian trade is dependent on ships. The lack of just laws does not only threaten the security to the maritime trade but also the lives of those Indians who are mostly dependent on maritime transit for their livelihood.

Test yourself:

Critically examine the need for a separate law to deal with piracy in India. How does the recently passed Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019 address the issue? (250 words)

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