The Lok Sabha recently witnessed a rare display of unity between the government and opposition benches as the Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill 2019 was passed almost unanimously.

 

Background

  • The 1982 UNCLOS defines piracy to include any acts of violence, detention or destruction committed for private ends against persons or property on board a ship on the high seas or outside the jurisdiction of any state.
  • Acts of piracy threaten maritime security by endangering the welfare of people travelling by sea and the security of navigation and commerce.
  • As per the International Maritime Organisation, during 2018 and 2019, 84 acts of piracy were reported globally.
  • Currently, India does not have a domestic legislation on maritime piracy and the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) pertaining to armed robbery and the admiralty jurisdiction of certain courts have been invoked to prosecute pirates.
  • However, the sovereignty of India extends only up to the territorial waters of India (12 nautical miles from the coastline) and the piratical acts by a foreigner committed outside the territorial waters of India do not constitute an offence under the IPC.
  • In 1995, India ratified the UNCLOS, which gives a uniform international legal framework for combating piracy and consequently the Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019 was introduced and has been referred to the Standing Committee on External Affairs.

 

Highlights of the Bill

  • It enables Indian authorities to take action against piracy in the high seas, beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), i.e., beyond 200 nautical miles from India’s coastline.
  • It defines piracy as any illegal act of violence, detention or destruction against a ship, aircraft, person or property, for private purposes, by the crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft.
  • Piracy also includes inciting and intentionally facilitating such acts of violence, and voluntarily participating in the operation of a pirate ship or aircraft.
  • Committing an act of piracy will be punishable with —
      • Up to 14 years of imprisonment and a fine, for participating, organising, aiding, and directing others to participate in an act of piracy.
      • Life imprisonment or death, if the act of piracy causes or seeks to cause death.

 

Key issues and analysis

  • A mandatory death penalty —
      • Under the Bill, if a person, while committing an act of piracy causes or seeks to cause death, he will be punished with death. This implies a mandatory death penalty for such offences.
      • The Supreme Court has held that mandatory death penalty for any offence is unconstitutional as it violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
  • Overlapping circumstances —
      • The Bill provides for imprisonment of up to 14 years if a person participates in an act of piracy.
      • Committing an act of piracy (which includes voluntarily participating in the operation of a pirate ship or aircraft) is punishable with life imprisonment.
      • As these circumstances may overlap, it is unclear how the punishment would be determined in such cases.