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Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill

Context:

Recently, Rajya Sabha passed the Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill which the government said would provide an effective legal instrument to combat Maritime Piracy.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill:
  2. Key features of the bill:
  3. Challenges of the Bill
  4. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

About Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill:

  • The bill calls for the punishment of those who commit crimes linked to maritime piracy and the prevention of such acts.
  • It will be applicable to all marine areas around and extending beyond India’s Exclusive Economic Zone i.e, beyond 200 nautical miles from the coast.
  • The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is enacted through this bill.

Key features of the bill:

Definition of Piracy:
  • It 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 actions would also be considered piracy if they are purposefully encouraged or facilitated.
  • It also encompasses any other behaviour that international law deems to be piracy.
  • Pirate activity also involves voluntarily helping run a pirate ship or an aircraft used in piracy.
Penalties:
  • A pirate offence will result in either: Life imprisonment; or Death, if piracy results in or seeks to result in death.
  • A person who attempts to commit, helps, encourages, or counsels a piracy offence faces a fine and a sentence of up to 14 years in jail.
  • Additionally, up to 14 years in prison and a fine may be imposed for taking part in, organising, or encouraging others to take part in an act of piracy.
  • Crimes will be regarded as extraditable. This indicates that the accused may be extradited to any nation with whom India has signed an extradition agreement in order to face justice there.
  • In the absence of such agreements, extradition will be permitted based on reciprocity between the nations.
Court jurisdiction:
  • Sessions Courts may be designated as the Designated Courts under this Bill by the central government, in conjunction with the Chief Justice of the relevant High Court.
  • The Designated Court will try offences committed by:
  • Regardless of nationality, a person in the Coast Guard or Navy of India.
  • A resident foreign national, a stateless individual, or an Indian citizen.

The Court will not have jurisdiction over offences committed on a foreign ship unless an intervention is requested by:

  • The country of origin of the ship.
  • The ship-owner.
  • Any other person on the ship.
  • Warships and government-owned ships employed for non-commercial purposes will not be under the jurisdiction of the Court.

Need for the bill:

More than 90% of India’s trade is conducted by maritime channels, and more than 80% of the nation’s hydrocarbon needs were met via shipping. As a result, the security of sea lines of communication is crucial.

Challenges of the Bill:

Death penalty
  • Under the Bill, if a person, while committing an act of piracy causes or seeks to cause death, he will be punished with death.
  • This implies a mandatory death penalty for such offences.
  • The mandatory death penalty for any crime, according to the Supreme Court, is unconstitutional since it breaches Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
  • However, legislation enacted by Parliament mandate the death penalty for particular crimes. For instance, the SC/ST Act (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989).
Imprisonment
  • The Bill stipulates that anyone who engages in an act of piracy faces a maximum 14-year sentence in jail. Committing an act of piracy (which includes voluntarily participating in the operation of a pirate ship or aircraft) is punishable with life imprisonment.
  • It is unclear how the punishment would be assessed in such scenarios because these circumstances may overlap.
Exclusive Economic Zone
  • The Bill will be applicable to all sea areas that are adjacent to and outside of India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), or outside of 200 nautical miles from the coast.
  • The question is whether the EEZ, or the space between 12 and 200 nautical miles, should also be included by the Bill (from the coastline of India).

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the international agreement defining the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
  • UNCLOS replaces the older ‘freedom of the seas’ concept, dating from the 17th century: national rights were limited to a specified belt of water extending from a nation’s coastlines according to the ‘cannon shot’ rule.
  • All waters beyond national boundaries were considered international waters: free to all nations, but belonging to none of them.
  • While India ratified UNCLOS in 1995, the U.S. has failed to do it so far.

-Source: The Hindu


February 2023
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