Lok Sabha takes up debate on Anti Maritime Piracy Bill

Money Control, December 07, 2022

A bill which seeks to formulate a law to deal with piracy in the international waters was taken up by Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

The purpose of the Anti Maritime Piracy Bill is to enact a domestic anti-maritime piracy legislation in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Moving the bill in the House, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said it will enhance India’s maritime security including those of our trade routes. Initiating the debate on the bill, Congress MP Manish Tewari raised concern over growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean. The bill, which was introduced in the Lower House on December 9, 2019, was sent to a standing committee of Parliament.
The external affairs minister said the government has tried to “suitably incorporate” the recommendations of the parliamentary panel in the Bill. He said 14 of the 18 recommendations were accepted, adding one of the recommendations which was about having a ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ for deportation and extradition of pirates by the Ministry of Home Affairs, has been noted and will be addressed suitably. He also said the provision of ‘trial in absentia’ has been dropped. “Keeping in mind the observation of the committee regarding the Supreme Court of India’s ruling on avoiding mandatory death punishment, the provision regarding death punishment has been amended in the Bill to also include life imprisonment,” Jaishakar added. “India does not have a specific law or legal provision in IPC or CRPC on piracy. This bill along with amendments would provide an effective legal instrument to combat piracy not only in our territorial waters but in the EEZ and also on the high seas,” he said.

The minister stressed that the safety of India’s maritime routes is necessary for the country’s security as well as economic wellbeing. “India’s security and economic well being is linked with the sea and maritime security is a prerequisite with more than 90 per cent of our trade with the world taking place through sea routes and more than 80 per cent of our hydrocarbon requirement being sea borne.” “The security of sea lanes of communication is critical to our national well being. India is also one of the largest providers of seafarers in the world,” he added. He said passing of the bill is a logical follow-up of India’s maritime initiatives and will also enhance India’s maritime security, “including that of our trade routes and welfare of our seafarers in international waters”. Congress MP Manish Tewari meanwhile expressed concern over growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.

“This bill provides an opportunity to not discuss legal architecture around piracy but India’s strategic interests in the northern Arabian sea and western Indian ocean where the majority of Indian trade passes through… Ungoverned spaces create conditions for pirates to operate and since 2008-09, Somalia and Yemen have been in disturbed states and have been piracy prone for over a decade and a half,” Tewari said. “China has operationalised its port in Djibouti. More than piracy, it is the Chinese naval presence in the northern Arabian sea and the western Indian ocean which is going to become our foremost challenge. Perhaps India needs to reconsider its forward basing policy, also because you cannot have a secured northern Arabian sea and the western Indian ocean if you do not have a basis to be able to forward deploy,” he said. “China has leveraged its debt diplomacy in expanding its realm across Africa. In the light of changed geo-political circumstances, is India willing to reconsider having its basis abroad and if it is reconsidering its policy then how really is the situation with regard to Mauritius and Seychelles,” he questioned. According to the statement of purpose of the bill, it was decided to bring about a domestic anti-piracy legislation for the prosecution of people for piracy-related crimes and to promote the safety and security of India’s maritime trade including the safety of our vessels and crew members.

It said The Gulf of Aden has seen a major spurt in attacks by pirates operating from Somalia since 2008. This route is used by about 2000 ships each month for trade between Asia and Europe and East coast of Africa. “With the enhanced naval presence in the Gulf of Aden, pirates shifted their area of operations eastwards and southwards. This led to a flurry of piracy incidents towards the western coast of India as well,” said the bill. The bill aims to make provisions of the proposed legislation applicable to all parts of the sea adjacent to and beyond the limits of Exclusive Economic Zone of India, to make the act of piracy on high seas as an offence punishable with imprisonment for life or with death. It also provides for providing punishment for attempt to commit offence of piracy or being an accessory to the commission of offence, make the offence extraditable, and to enable the central government, in consultation with the Chief Justice of the high court concerned, to specify certain courts as designated courts for speedy trial of offences of piracy under the proposed legislation.

N Reddeppa Gari (YSRCP) was of the view that India can become ‘Vishwa Guru’ by implementing this bill.
Noting that piracy is an ancient phenomenon, Kalyan Banerjee (AITC) said coastal police training is inadequate in the country and suggested that maritime police which is posted should be well trained.

Alok Kumar Suman of JD (U) said this legislation is the outcome to a commitment made by India by signing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982.

He said since there is involvement of a lot of ministries including Ministry of External Affairs, it is important that the role of agencies or department is clearly defined which is not visible in this bill.

Danish Ali (BSP) termed the bill as good and much required and complemented the government for coming out with this legislation.

RSP’s N K Premachandran was of the view that the Centre should have a comprehensive legislation on crime on sea.

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