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Admiralty Law and its significance in International Law


Before initiating any kind of study or research in a legal field, one needs to understand the fact that the foundation of any Legal System rests on what it recognizes as a subject and then seeks to govern it. The subject of Maritime law is not new and has existed for ages. When 70% of the world is the ocean[1] where there are no governing bodies, there needs to be a framework and that is what the essence of Maritime or Admiralty law is.

The word maritime[2] comes from the Latin word maritimus which means law of the sea and admiralty comes from the word admiral which again has a Latin origin meaning “someone who leads the navy or the department that administers the navy of a nation i.e., anything concerning the ships, vessels, sea, and other navigable waters”. Admiralty Law and Maritime law are considered synonymous because they have similar meanings and intend to govern the same subjects.

 Further Admiralty Law also takes into account trade and shipping business, ship ownership, ship operation, ship casualties, the issues of maritime liens, the enforcement of maritime claims, salvage rights, the arrests of the ship, liability limitation, collision at sea, shipping accidents and the enforcement of maritime claims, etc. The ship owners, captains, seamen, sailors, and other related entities need to abide by the maritime or admiralty law, contravention to which, they may face claims in Admiralty courts or National Courts. Therefore, Admiralty Law holds a crucial place in ensuring that the rights and responsibilities of ship owners stay conserved and that the challenges and hazards of maritime work are handled comprehensively.


Admiralty Law has a very ancient origin dating back to the 7th century in The Byzantine Empire, which devised The Rhodian Sea Law[3] for governing commercial trade and navigation, this law influenced maritime law because a major portion of trade was cooked through the maritime route. The Rhodian Sea Law persisted in influence through the 12th, 13th, and even 14th centuries.


  • It deals with the process of carrying goods through sea routes concerning the protection and maintenance of ships at sea.
  • Registration and damage to ships.
  • Marine Insurance.
  • Incidents of navigation.
  • Marine pollution.
  • Public law regime.
  • Environment Protection and Natural Resource conservation.
  • Contracts of carriage and other contracts
  • General Principles related to the maritime zone
  • Rules of mining and exploitation of natural resources
  • Dispute settlement.
  • Jurisdictional claims.
  • Injuries or offences taking place in navigable waters
  • Ship interactions

Although traditionally Admiralty law only deals with oceans but also extends to cover any other public body of water like rivers, lakes, or even land to cover legal issues.          


  1. Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Act 2017[4]
  2. Maritime Zones of India Act, 1981[5]
  3. Multimodal Transportation Act,1993[6]
  4. Carriage of Goods by Sea Act,1925 (COGSA)[7]
  5. The Merchant Shipping Act, of 1958[8]

These statutes provide a legal framework for maritime transport and define concepts concerning the business of carrying goods and passengers by water and any other process that deals with the use of marine resources, ocean commerce, and navigation.


  • V. Elizabeth v. Harwan Investment and Trading Pvt. Ltd[9]: In this landmark case, the appellant vessel M.V. Elizabeth, left the port of Marmagoa without issuing bills of lading, further misdelivering the goods to the consignee. The respondent Harwan Investment and Trading Pvt. Ltd. instituted an action in rem invoking the admiralty jurisdiction of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, this being protested by the appellant, the Supreme Court judges T.K. Thommen and R.M. Sahai held that India is a common law country, the International Conventional of the arrest of Seagoing Ships, Brussels, May 10, 1952, can be applied to India to enforce the claims of Maritime Law against the foreign ships.
  • Liverpool & London SP&I Association Ltd v. V. Sea Success I[10]:  In this case, the appellant Liverpool & London S.P. & I Asson. Ltd. offered insurance cover for third-party risks linked to the operation and trading of vessels, The ships Sea Ranger and the Sea Glory (sister ships) entered into a contract with the appellant but failed to pay their insurance premium. The appellant arrested the first ship. The CJI and Supreme Court Judge S.B. Sinha laid down that the principles of the 1999 Geneva Arrest Convention, are applicable for arresting a ship in India, also holding the MV Elizabeth v Harwan Investment and Trading Pvt Ltd as an authority.
  • Moses v. M.V. Sea Chase[11]: In this case, a reef was damaged by the defendant’s vessel M.V. Sea Chase, in addition to the spilling of petroleum products. The plaintiff, Carlos Moses, and the Uman Municipal Government, claiming to be the owner of the reef sought compensation. The Court dismissed any action to pay damages against the vessel stating that the vessel had not been seized by the Court process and was no longer in the jurisdiction.


The purpose behind the formation of any Law is not limited to endowing human beings with basic fundamental dignity but also to facilitate the peaceful co-existence of human beings with other living creatures which are a part of nature. Therefore Laws on Environmental Conservation, Marine Life Conservation, Marine Pollution, Transnational crimes, Cross-border terrorism, and Nuclear Disarmament and their applications and implementation are not limited to a particular country’s territory but have rippling effects on an international front. What happens in one country becomes a subject of debate in its adjacent countries and globally. A certain development or change in law or regime in one country becomes a point of serious concern for other countries. There are countries that share very friendly relations and there are countries that have historically been critical and continue to be, towards each other’s developments or advancements.


There have been events of flagrant violation of Admiralty Law and subsequently International Law around the world by some countries for securing their interests. So, it’s quite evident that International Law is subject to violation and has been twisted several times by countries if it is perceived as a hindrance in securing their national interests.

Be it expansionist China’s claims in the South China Sea setting off Manila to approach the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)[12]  or the closure of Ukraine’s rivers and seaports triggered by the unprecedented Russian war over Ukraine[13].

In both cases, there has been a blatant violation of maritime law affecting the International rules-based order. To upgrade the present situation there is a pivotal need for countries to come together and collectively adopt an integrated approach against the infraction of maritime and other international laws. A stringent global maritime law and its proper usage may even empower the smaller countries in safeguarding their national interests from those of the predators.                                           


In the history of mankind, numerous laws have been passed, amended, repealed, and struck down to suit the ever-changing needs of mankind and further provide ease of living or that of existence. Various battles and wars have been fought to in a way, secure these needs, the methodology may be wrong or right but the idea or the motivation remains the same. With the advent of science and Technology, it becomes even more facile to contravene and abridge the law, but the same can be used as an effective instrument in deterring these violations. The strengthening of Admiralty Laws is vital for securing the interests and well-being of the nation. For a country like India which is recasting its engagement in almost every field, the strict implementation of these laws will present a very strong and unflinching position of India.

Author(s) Name: Rini Mishra (Narvadeshwar Law College, Lucknow affiliated to Lucknow University)


[1]Water covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, but only a fraction is fresh, PHYS ORG (Nov. 10, 2022, 08:50)

[2]Maritime, Cambridge Dictionary, .

[3]AVERIL CAMERON, THE BYZANTINES 5, (Princeton University Press 2010).

[4] Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Act, 2017, No. 22, Acts of Parliament, 2017 (India).

[5] The Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Act, 1981, No. 42, Act of Parliament 1981(India).

[6] The Multimodal Transportation of Goods Act, 1993 No. 28, Acts of Parliament,

1993 (India).

[7] Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, 1925, No. 26, Acts of Parliament, 1925 (India).

[8] The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, No. 44, Acts of Parliament, 1958 (India).

[9] M.V. Elisabeth And Ors v. Harwan Investment And Trading (1992) SCR (1)1003.

[10] Liverpool & London S.P. & I Asson Ltd. v. M.V. Sea Success I & An (2003) AIR 573 SC.

[11] Moses v. MV Sea Chase (2001) FMSC 56; 10 FSM Intrm. 45.

[12]Factbox: Why the Philippines’ South China Sea legal case matters, REUTARS (Jul. 11, 2016, 11:54 PM),

[13]Ukraine may lose Tens Millions tonnes grain Zelenskiy says, REUTARS (May 2, 2022, 03:55 PM),