Admiralty Law: Meaning and Significance

With growing businesses and international trade and commerce, the cargo movement through water has increased multiple times. Soon such movements and the conduct of export−import businesses through water became the interest of lawyers, as such transactions need some defined law that can maintain harmony and promote smooth movements. And, in the case of any dispute, it can be resolved based on previously decided terms and conditions (i.e. through arbitration).

What is Admiralty Law?

Admiralty law is made up of the regulations controlling the practises and processes of admiralty courts. Likewise, admiralty law may also apply to some operations that relate to marine trade, which also conducted on land. This can apply to situations in which sailors, cargo, or waterborne vessels, including pleasure craft used for amusement, are harmed or the subject matter of a contract.

Historical Background

Ancient Egyptian, Phoenician, and Greek practises that engaged in considerable trade in the Mediterranean Sea are the origins of maritime law, an ancient legal system. In the port cities of the Mediterranean, specialised tribunals were established to hear maritime disputes. Individual judgments were recorded as a result of this endeavor, and judicially binding customs were codified. The most international industry is shipping. The status and administration of the seas and oceans, which make up more than 70% of the Earth's surface, are governed by maritime law. For the increasing number of human activities in the maritime environment, it offers a regulatory framework. It has an impact on states' important interests in politics, strategy, the economy, and other areas. It is one of the earliest components of international law, having progressively evolved over centuries through state practice. One of the earliest subfields of public international law is the law of the sea.

Sources of Admiralty Law

The primary sources of Admiralty laws are −

  • Written Laws− In early times, Hammurabi’s Babylonian laws of 1700 B.C., preserved in cuneiform characters, contained maritime regulations concerning the care of goods confided for transport. From the eastern Mediterranean, however, the first known rule concerning general averaging is preserved, the so−called Rhodian law concerning the jettison of cargo. This rule was eventually incorporated into Roman law. The hegemony of Athens on the Mediterranean, which reached its peak during the 5th century B.C., left few and indirect traces in the history of maritime law. Some of Demosthenes’ speeches from a somewhat later period show indirectly that Greek maritime law had reached an appreciable level of development. For instance, the maritime legal institution known as "bottomryrv was not unknown in Greek law.

    According to one author, the Rues d'Oleron were so well received that they became general rules for resolving maritime legal issues. They were accepted not only in France as a common maritime law but also in one form or another in other European countries. The Consolato del Mar exercised a great influence on later maritime legislation and was directly applied by the law courts.

  • Custom− According to the history of maritime law as outlined above, custom played a significant role in the development of the laws at first. Despite the fact that so much of modern maritime law is codified, tradition continues to be a significant additional source of law. recurring mentions of "custom of the port," a legally binding local custom. There must be a recognised local usage and practise for a custom to be legally enforceable. A custom must, first and foremost, be so well known that everyone who is touched by it is aware of it or should be aware of it.

  • Modern Convention− States, international organisations, and classification societies all make significant efforts to reduce maritime risks. Their acts and initiatives, such as the adoption of technical restrictions on the design and equipment of merchant ships, are evidence of their efforts. These rules, taken as a whole, collectively comprise the overall system for ship safety. International conventions and the rules of classification societies both offer a lot of information about technical inventories. The following IMO conventions are the most significant ones in relation to ship safety −

    • International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS Convention), 1974 with amendments;

    • International Convention on Load Lines, 1966, (LL Convention) and the 1988 Protocol and

    • The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973/78 (MARPOL Convention).

Admiralty Law in India

The Sanskrit verse "Jalamev Yasya, Balamev Tasya," which literally translates to "He who controls the sea is all−mighty," best expresses the significance of the sea and the exercise of control over it. India's ports and shipping sector are essential to maintaining the expansion of trade and commerce in the nation. Although the Indian Government also actively supports the port industry, efforts to codify the rules in this field in order to improve it have met with little success. By virtue of legal reasoning, it was determined that Indian High Courts would be subject to the same admiralty statutes as the English Court of Admiralty, as defined in sections 6 of the English Admiralty Court Act, 1861, and 2(2) of the Colonial Courts of Admiralty (India) Act.

The Indian Courts vested with Admiralty jurisdiction are the High Court’s of Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Odisha, Telangana, Hyderabad, Karnataka, Kerala and Gujarat. The Admiralty jurisdiction of each of these courts is concurrent and territorially extends over the coast line of India.

Applicability− All boats, ships, and other vessels in Indian territorial waters are subject to the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act, with the exception of inland vessels and vessels that are still under construction. The Admiralty Jurisdiction Act has been long anticipated. It simplifies the Indian courts' admiralty jurisdiction and codifies much of what was previously only stated in court decisions into a single statute− "naval or other non−commercial government vessels have not yet been launched." Additionally, it covers the wreckage of such vessels as well as those that have sunk, become trapped, or have been abandoned.

Any foreign vessel used for non−commercial purposes, as determined by the central government, is exempt from the Act. As a result, all commercial ships, including general cargo ships, bulk carriers, container ships, roll−on/roll−off vessels, oil and liquefied gas carriers, chemical carriers, product carriers, animal vessels, tug vessels, and even commercial passenger ships, should be covered by the Act.


Admiralty law is a code of both domestic laws governing maritime activities, and private international law governing relationships between private entities which operate ships on the oceans. It also brings within its ambit the transportation of passengers and goods by sea, shipping maritime commerce, navigation, other commercial activities etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What roles do admiralty courts play?

An admiralty court hears cases involving shipping, the ocean, and the sea. Contracts, torts, injuries, and criminal charges involving maritime law and high seas activities are all covered in such cases.

Q. What are the four pillars of maritime law?

The four pillars of IMO are the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping for Seafarers (STCW), International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) and Maritime Labour Convention (MLC).

Q. What distinguishes maritime law from the Law of the Sea?

Maritime law, often known as admiralty law, is a type of domestic law. International treaties govern maritime law. All countries must abide by a set of rules, customs, and international treaties known as the "law of the sea."

Q. What are the claims of the admiralty?

Any claim involving or resulting from the ownership, design, construction, possession, management, operation, or trading of a ship, or involving or resulting from a mortgage, or "hypothèque," is referred to as an admiralty claim.

Q. What are matters of admiralty?

Marine commerce, marine navigation, salvage, marine pollution, seafarers' rights, and the transportation of people and goods by sea are among the topics covered by admiralty law. Marine insurance is one example of a land−based business activity that is covered by admiralty law.