In case of loss of life, family should get adequate compensation

Taking note of the increasing incidents of piracy and attack on vessels, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre to immediately amend the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 and Rules 2005 to ensure that the life of seafarers is made more secure and their families are paid adequate compensation in the event of loss of life. A Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar gave this direction while confirming payment of $40,000 to the family of each seafarer and $25,000 to the family of each non-seafarer who went missing on board the vessel Jupiter-6 in 2005.

On August 21, 2005, Jupiter-6, with its crew of 10 Indians and three Ukrainians, left Walvis Bay in Namibia and was towing a dead ship Satsung, on its way to Alang in Gujarat. On September 5, Jupiter-6 went missing in the high seas. The kith and kin of the Indians moved the Supreme Court for an investigation into the mysterious disappearance of the seafarers. (For the Ukrainians and an Indian widow (non-officer), the ship owner paid compensation.)

On court directions, James Mckintosh Company Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, on behalf of the owners of Jupiter-6, offered to pay compensation at $40,000 for the death of each of the officers and at $25,000 for the death of each of the non-officers. Accordingly, on November 15, 2010 the court directed that a sum of Rs.1,29,29,386 ($2,85,000) for the remaining nine Indian seafarers (four officers and five non-officers) be deposited with it for payment to the family members without prejudice to their claims for higher compensation.

Now, writing the judgment, Justice Patnaik said: “The Surveyor in-charge-cum-Deputy Director-General of Shipping requested the flag state to probe the casualty within nine days of the information received about it. We are not in a position to hold that there was any inaction with malicious intent or conscious abuse or intentional doing of some wrongful act or negligence on the part of respondents 1, 2 and/or 3 which was the proximate cause of disappearance or death of the Indian seafarers on board Jupiter-6.”Further, “it is difficult for us to hold that the amount of compensation is not adequate in the absence of sufficient material to show the age, the income of the seafarers and all other factors which are relevant for determination of compensation in the case of death of seafarers [officers and non-officers].”

The Bench said that on July 19, 2011 the government informed the court of the proposal for setting up an Indian Maritime Casualty Investigation Cell and for amending the 2005 Rules. A circular issued by the Director-General of Shipping in 2002 laid down the procedure for investigation of casualties of Indian citizens on board foreign flag vessels.

“In our view, it will be enough for us to recommend to respondent 1 to expedite the proposals which have been under consideration of the government and to take immediate steps to amend the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 and the Rules 2005 to ensure that the life of seafarers employed in different ships in the high seas is made more secure and safe and in case of loss of life, their kith and kin are paid adequate amount of compensation.” The Bench directed the Registrar (Judicial) to expedite payment of compensation in accordance with the orders passed, in any case not later than four months.

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