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Written by - Sammed Darure


What do you think is the need for maritime law? About seventy percent of our world is covered by water. There are laws on land to determine the boundaries, but in the sea, there are no such laws, nor is there any governance or dominance of a country. In the ancient period, trade and transportation occurred through sea routes, and various mischiefs and piracy cases emerged, resulting in the need for the development of maritime laws. In order to resolve the disputes between ship owners, settlement of insurance claims including ships and cargo. All the safety laws related to passenger ships were also to be formed through this law. These laws deal with various legal issues, including the rights and duties of the ship owners, captain, and crew members. As ships travel through the boundaries of various countries, it is difficult to find under whose jurisdiction the case is to be filled. The maritime laws are applicable to all the vessels in navigable waters, regardless of the flag they fly or the nationality of their crew.

Emergence and Evolution

The maritime laws emerged, as a result, to tackle the accidents and make traveling through seaways safer. The early development occurred as a result of trade between the Greeks, Egyptians, and Phoenicians, who can be said to be the founding fathers of this law. The establishment of safe harbors and the resolution of disputes between seafarers were the first improvements in the law. Later, as the medieval period emerged, some maritime codes were developed by European cities and states. Around the seventh century, a major development occurred in the islands of Rhodes. This Rhodian Marine Law lately became the basis for the development of modern-day marine law. Further development took place in the market towns of northern Europe, including the laws related to trade in the Baltic Sea. The emergence of the law of the sea gave some more rules and regulations in the governance of the geographical jurisdiction of the coastal state and the rights and duties of that particular state. Though in today’s date, we find that the law of the sea and maritime laws are differentiated on the basis of the specialization of the activities in the sea. The maritime laws deal specifically with maritime activities, trade, and commerce. It deals with issues related to shipping, ocean pollution, shipping contracts, maritime insurance, and much more, while the law of the sea is a branch of international law that governs the resources of the ocean, fishing rights, and boundaries.

International Maritime Organization

Molding itself through the age’s Modern maritime law is well developed. The present maritime laws are different for different countries, and in order to keep coordination between all of them, an International Maritime Organization (IMO) was set up, which deals with setting certain standards for safety, security, and environmental performance in the case of international shipping. The International Maritime Organization was set up through an international convention in Geneva and an intergovernmental maritime consultative organization was established today known as the International Maritime Organization as per the amendment in 1982.

Key areas of maritime laws include

1) Maritime commerce: This deals with the laws related to the sale and purchase, the transport of goods by sea, and the duties and liabilities of the ship owners. 2) Personal Injury: These laws provide protection and give various rights to the sailors or passengers who are injured on the vessel. 3) Maritime Pollution: This area specifically deals with the problems of water pollution caused by oil spills and the discharge of hazardous chemicals into the water. 4) Wreck removal: laws related to the removal of sunken shipwreck, possession over a damaged vessel, or extraction of any other hazardous substance. 5) Maritime security: These laws deal with the safety and security of cargo ships from piracy or any other dangerous crime. It also includes the safety of the port along with the safety and security of the vessel. Every country has its own maritime law, just as the USA has a complex combination of maritime laws including the Jones Act, the Longshore, and Harbour Workers Compensation Act, the Maritime Drug Enforcement Act, the Oil Pollution Act, the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, and the Limitation of Liability Act.

Maritime laws in India

Since India has a huge coastline, it needs strict maritime laws to keep the country secure. The development of maritime laws in India can be traced back to the colonial period. During the rule of the British, they enacted laws like the Indian Port Act of 1908 and the Indian Merchant Shipping Act of 1923, which assisted in the regulation and registration of ships in India. When India became free from colonial rule, the prior Indian merchant shipping act was replaced by the new Indian merchant shipping act of 1958, which deals with the safety of the vessel, registration of the vessel, and rights and duties of the sailors. By the Act of 1966, boundaries and zones were determined, like territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles from the coast, a continental zone 12 nautical miles from the boundary of territorial water, and an exclusive economic zone 200 nautical miles from the coastline. By the coastal regulation zone of 2011, the activities in the coastal zone, like mining and construction, were monitored and regulated.

Important Judgements

Developments in the maritime laws through various landmark judgments in India helped shape the legal framework for maritime activities in the country.  In the S.S. Lotus case, the court held that a state can exercise jurisdiction over a foreign vessel on the high seas only if the conduct of the vessel affects the security or vital interests of the state.  Similarly, in the Deep Offshore Fishing Association case of 1983, a new principle established that foreign vessels were not entitled to fish in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and the Indian government had the right to regulate and control fishing activities in its waters.  The Madras High Court ordered to pay compensation for all the loss caused to the affected parties due to the carelessness of ship owners, operators in the case of M.V. Emrald.  In the Republic of Italy V. Union of India case, the court ordered that Italian marines are liable for jurisdiction under the Indian Court as the incident took place in the EEZ and the country has jurisdiction over the EEZ.


Water transport being the best and cheapest mode adds great value to the economy of the country. The maritime industry is developing at a rapid pace, and with good pace come greater responsibilities and problems. In order to tackle the problems of piracy, water pollution, registration and ownership of vessels, control over the passage and activities performed by the vessel during its journey, solving the civil disputes among the ship owners, etc., every country needs strong maritime laws.


 International law by Malcolm N. Shaw  The Italian Republic V. The Republic Of India, The "Enrica Lexie" Incident (2020)  The Case of the S.S. Lotus: France V/S Turkey. Pcij Series No. 10  The Deep Offshore Fishing Association Case (1983)  Republic of Italy V. Union of India (2012)  Seapace International Shipping ... vs Mv Emerald Strait on 5 May 2015  The Commander Coast Guard Region ... vs O. Konavalov and 4 Others on 10 January 2001

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