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Article India: Parliament Passes Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill to Combat Piracy on High Seas

On December 19, 2022, the Lokh Sabha, India’s lower chamber of Parliament, passed the Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019 (Bill No. 369 of 2019), a measure that would “enable Indian authorities to take action against piracy in the high seas.” Two days later, the Rajya Sabha, the upper chamber, passed the same bill.

Commenting on the bill’s passage, External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar stated that the bill would “strengthen India’s credentials as a partner with other countries to make the world more piracy free.” According to Jaishankar, 27 incidents of maritime piracy took place between 2008 and 2011, in which 288 Indian nationals were involved, while from 2014 to 2022, 19 incidents of piracy occurred involving 155 Indian crew members. “The number of incidents of maritime piracy has come down because of international cooperation,” said Jaishankar.

India is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which it ratified on June 29, 1995. The preamble of the Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill states that it was “considered necessary to implement the provisions relating to piracy contained in the … Convention.” According to the bill’s Statement of Objects & Reasons, India does not have “separate domestic legislation on piracy.” The provisions of the Indian Penal Code related to “armed robbery” [sections 390–402] and the Admiralty jurisdiction of certain courts “have been invoked in the past to prosecute pirates apprehended by the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard but in the absence of any specific law relating to the offence of maritime piracy in India, problems are being faced in ensuring effective prosecution of the pirates.”

The Standing Committee on External Affairs had submitted its report on the bill on February 11, 2021.

Main Features of the Bill

The preamble of the bill states that the purpose of the proposed legislation is to “make special provisions for repression of piracy on high seas and to provide for punishment for the offence of piracy and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

The law, if enacted, would apply to “all parts of the sea adjacent to and beyond the limits” of the Exclusive Economic Zone of India, “which is beyond 200 nautical miles from India’s coastline.” Section 3 of the bill establishes punishment for the act of piracy by imprisonment for life or with death “if such person in committing the act of piracy causes death or an attempt thereof.” Section 2(1)(f) defines “piracy” as:

(i) any illegal act of violence or detention or any act of depredation committed for private ends by the crew or any passenger of private ship or a private aircraft and directed—

(A) on the high seas against another ship or aircraft or against person or property on board such ship or aircraft;

(B) against a ship, aircraft, person or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of India;

(ii) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts, making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

(iii) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in sub-clause (i) or sub-clause (ii); or

(iv) any act which is deemed piratical under the international law including customary international law.

Sections 4 and 5 provide for punishment for attempting to commit or being an accessory to (“aid[ing] or abet[ing] or counsel[ing] or procur[ing] for”) the commission of piracy and for “organis[ing] or direct[ing others] to participate in an act of piracy.” Both are punishable with up to 14 years of imprisonment and a fine. Section 11 of the bill establishes a statutory presumption of guilt, “unless the contrary is proved,” if:

(a) the arms, ammunitions, explosives and other equipments are recovered from the possession of the accused, and there are reasonable grounds to believe that such arms, ammunitions, explosives or other equipments of similar nature were used or intended to be used in the commission of the offence;

(b) there is evidence of use of force, threat of force or any other form of intimidation caused to the crew or passengers of the ship in connection with the commission of the offence; or

(c) there is evidence of an intended threat of using bombs, arms, firearms, explosives or committing any form of violence against the crew, passengers or cargo of a ship.

The bill enables the central government, in consultation with the chief justice of the concerned High Court, to designate through notification certain sessions courts for speedy trial of piracy offenses. The bill also contains provisions on the jurisdiction and trial of offenses by these designated courts.

Tariq Ahmad, Law Library of Congress
January 27, 2023

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