Collision with fishing boat: Karnataka HC upholds criminal case under Indian laws against cargo ship owned by Singapore company

The ship had collided with a mechanised fishing boat from Kerala in international water off Mangaluru coast

September 22, 2022 10:02 pm | Updated 10:02 pm IST - Bengaluru

A view of the High Court of Karnataka

A view of the High Court of Karnataka

The High Court of Karnataka has upheld the registration of a criminal case under the Indian laws against a cargo container ship, owned by a company in Singapore, for causing collusion with a mechanised fishing boat from Kerala in international water off Mangaluru coast in April last year, resulting in the death 12 fishermen.

Justice M. Nagaprasanna passed the order while dismissing a petition filed by CMA CGM Asia Shipping PTE Ltd., Singapore.

The petitioner-company had questioned the prosecution in India while contending that the provisions of India’s Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC) are not applicable to it as it has no presence in India, and registration of the case under these laws is contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), 1982.

The collision occurred between the container ship ‘MV APL Le Havre’, owned by the petitioner-company, and the Indian fishing boat, ‘Rabah’, owned by a firm in Kerala, on April 13, 2021, at about 42 nautical miles off Mangaluru coast, and a criminal case was registered in August 2021 by the Merchantile Marine Department after a preliminary inquiry found negligence in the operation of petitioner’s ship.

Of the total 14 fishermen (seven each from Tamil Nadu and West Bengal) onboard the fishing boat, six had died as their bodies were recovered, six others were considered dead as their bodies were not traced, and two other were rescued.

Applicability of laws

After analysing the laws, including the apex court’s 2013 judgment in the Italian marines’ case, the High Court has said that the provisions of India’s Maritime Zones Act, 1976 are applicable for the petitioner as the incident had occurred within India’s exclusive economic zone, which extends up to 200 nautical miles from the baseline even though the ship is ‘flagged outside India’.

The court also pointed out that the notification issued under the Maritime Zones Act makes the provisions of the IPC and the Cr.PC applicable to the India’s Exclusive Economic Zone in the international water.

On the petitioner’s contention that penal action for collision in ‘high sea’ should be dealt with only by the ‘flag state’ of the vessel as per the articles UNCLOS, the court said that articles of the UNCLOS apply only to ‘high sea’ and not for India’s ‘exclusive economic zone’ in the international water.

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