In an effort to ensure there is no repeat of a 26/11-type terrorist attack, all seagoing vessels, including fishing boats, will have to be registered with the authorities concerned, according to the to the Merchant Shipping Bill, which was cleared by Cabinet on Wednesday. These vessels will also need to be installed with security gadgets such as automatic identification system (AIS), distress alert transmitters (DATs) and transponders, so as to be able to send warning in case of any emergency.
Non-registration will attract the owner of the vessel a jail term of up to six months or fines up to Rs 2 lakh, according to the provisions of the bill. Sources said penalty for failure to install security devices will be laid down when rules will be framed. The bill also provides for steep penalties for both Indian and foreign ships caught discharging pollutants or dumping any waste in the sea, besides incurring entire expense for complete restoration and rehabilitation.
While Indian ships will have to pay fine and face jail term, foreign ships will face only financial penalty. To protect the Indian seafarers hired by foreign ships, the bill provides for paying full salary to such persons for the entire period in case they are held captive by pirates anywhere. Moreover, agencies recruiting such seafarers will have to deposit a bank guarantee of up to four months salary with the director general of shipping for every seafarer they hire. The authority can encash the guarantee and use it to secure the release and return of a captive Indian seafarer.
The bill is likely to be introduced in the ongoing winter session of Parliament. One-tenth of the world’s total seafarers are from India and they number around 1.5 lakh. In the past one decade, around 500 Indian seafarers were held captive by pirates across the globe and almost all of them were released. In some cases, the captivity period was over four years.