Adv. Sindhura Polepalli is a Maritime Legal Consultant at the Directorate General of Shipping (Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Government of India). Her work includes legal consultancy, legislation drafting and international cooperation in the maritime field. In her present capacity, she is a member of the National Committee, which is tasked with reforming India’s Maritime Acts/Laws/Regulations/Policy for meeting Maritime India Vision 2030 (released by Hon’ble PM Narendra Modi on 2-3-2021).


Previously, she served the legal office of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), Hamburg. She is a law graduate from the Government Law College, Mumbai, and has earned her LLM with distinction in International Maritime Law from IMO International Maritime Law Institute (IMO-IMLI), Malta, where she was awarded the Maltese Government Prize for Best Performance in the Law of the Sea. She also holds diplomas from Rhodes Academy of Oceans Law and Policy (Greece) and the Yeosu Academy of the Law of the Sea (Republic of Korea).


She has been interviewed by Achintaya Soni, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from UILS, Panjab University.


  1. What drew your curiosity to the field of maritime law and how did you choose this field of expertise?

I am a first generation lawyer, which means I was not already exposed to the varied areas of legal expertise, especially the niche ones such as maritime law. I realised this all the more strongly as a law student, and decided to explore the different legal areas of practice through internships, participation in moot court and Model United Nations competitions, etc. To briefly explain, I had the privilege of interning with Justice S.J. Kathawalla of the Bombay High Court. Soon I qualified to represent my law college at certain national moot court competitions, among which my team and I decided to pick the competition that was centred around international law of the sea. Through our participation, we stood meritorious PAN India, and it further motivated me to look for prospects in this subject. Subsequently, I was accepted to various short courses in maritime law, such as the GNLU International Maritime Academy, the Yeosu Academy of the Law of the Sea (Republic of Korea) and the Rhodes Academy of Oceans Law and Policy (Greece), as well as an internship with Bose & Mitra & Co. These experiences built my deep interest for seeking advanced education in maritime law and further professional endeavours in this subject.

  1. Can you comment on how law schools take maritime law as a subject? Is it accorded the importance it deserves?

Maritime law falls within the wider umbrella of international law—a subject which is wide in itself. Further, maritime law has both public (law of the sea) and private (shipping law) elements.


While I pursued law, the subject of law of the sea was barely a few pages of public international law. Also, conflict of laws/private international law was an optional, and even within which the interaction with the concepts applicable to shipping law was bare minimal. Hence, it can be said that maritime law was barely included in the law school syllabus. In my opinion, this may be because maritime law is a niche subject. However, other niche subjects such as taxation law and intellectual property rights have been introduced as optional subjects in the LLB curriculum. Hence, one may argue that such should also be the case with maritime law, which is at the centre of international trade and national security and interests, and which has proved to be indispensable even during the pandemic.

  1. How was your experience at the IMO International Maritime Law Institute (IMO-IMLI), Malta? Would you recommend interested students to consider pursuing advanced maritime education at IMO-IMLI? Does India have such opportunities for advanced maritime education?

IMO-IMLI offers an in-depth, comprehensive and the best global programme in international maritime law, and this is especially evidenced through the special recognition of its work by the International Maritime Organisation. The institute is committed to the sustainable development goals and contributes to the empowerment of women in the maritime sector by reserving 50% of the places in its programmes for deserving female candidates. My experience at IMO-IMLI was no different and the institute assisted me in securing the prestigious Nippon Foundation scholarship.


Through my experience, I must say that IMO-IMLI is not only promising because of its world class teaching under the tutelage of renowned maritime experts, but it is also an exceptional avenue to share class with senior government officers, lawyers and policy experts of multiple nationalities. As a result, IMO-IMLI broadens the horizon of learnings and perspectives in maritime law as well as with respect to multinational cultures, traditions and experiences.


As to the opportunities in India, an LLM in maritime law may be pursued at Indian Maritime University, Gujarat Maritime University, Cochin University of Science and Technology, among others.


  1. How was your experience at the ITLOS, Hamburg? What differentiates ITLOS from the International Court of Justice?

Having earned my LLM in International Maritime Law from IMO-IMLI, I was very interested in understanding the practical application of the concepts I had pursued academically in the field of the law of the sea and I had the privilege of being accepted to the ITLOS internship programme.


Through my time at ITLOS, I had the prestigious opportunity to witness the making of international jurisprudence at ITLOS, particularly with regard to provisional measures, through the M/T “San Padre Pio” case (Switzerland/Nigeria),  the case concerning the detention of three Ukrainian naval vessels (Ukraine v. Russian Federation) and the M/V “Norstar” case (Panama v. Italy).


I must also highlight that during this time at ITLOS I was included among the guest invitees to attend the proceedings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concerning the case (Ukraine v. Russian Federation). This period offered an extensive and realistic understanding of the concepts of the law of the sea as well as the procedures concerning peaceful settlement of international disputes.


With respect to the ITLOS and the ICJ, they are different in the way that the former is an independent international judicial body established under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), while the latter is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations as well as one of the dispute settlement mechanisms under UNCLOS. Accordingly, there are frequent cases of overlap among the subjects over which ICJ and ITLOS exercise jurisdiction. However, unlike the ICJ, the Judges of ITLOS are required to have recognised competence in the specialised field of the law of the sea. Besides, unlike ITLOS, compliance with the judgments of the ICJ is ensured through recourse to the United Nations Security Council.


For India, it may be noted that recourse to the ICJ for maritime disputes is largely ruled out for now because of India’s express declaration in this regard. No such declaration has been made by India concerning the ITLOS.


  1. What is your scope of work as a Maritime Consultant at the Directorate General of Shipping? What kind of work do you deal on a day-to-day basis?

The Directorate General of Shipping (Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Government of India) is the Maritime Administration of India. As the Maritime Legal Consultant to the Directorate, my work includes legal consultancy, legislation drafting and international cooperation in the maritime field. These responsibilities are especially evidenced by the Maritime India Vision 2030, which was released by the Prime Minister of India this year, where I have been honoured to serve as the member of India’s National Committee tasked with reforming India’s maritime legal architecture to implement applicable international law and generally accepted international rules and standards.


This means I assist the Directorate in developing and implementing national maritime legislation and rendering legal advice on national and international law, treaties and instruments, particularly affecting the maritime field.  The scope of my work includes an integrated approach to international law in which the Indian legal framework interfaces with international and regional organisations, such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Trade Organisation (WTO), the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), the European Union (EU) and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).


My work, for instance, often deals with India’s representation at the IMO, including India’s election to the IMO Council as well as in the formulation and drafting of India’s position on matters of maritime concern, such as in cases of abandonment of seafarers. Also, I assist in the ongoing discussions at the UNCITRAL concerning the draft Convention on the Judicial Sale of Ships. I continue to contribute to international negotiations and drafting of agreements with the BIMSTEC countries, EU and other countries on matters such as coastal shipping, training and employment of seafarers, ship recycling and ship building. Also, I have contributed to the drafting of the recent Recycling of Ships Rules, 2021, and the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour) Amendment Rules, 2021, and I am actively involved in the drafting of the proposed Merchant Shipping Bill, 2020 and Coastal Shipping Bill, 2020. Frequently, I render legal opinion on questions of law posed by maritime cases or incidents.

  1. Today, India stands among the top five ship recycling countries of the world and this practice of ship recycling contributes USD 1.3 billion to India’s GDP. However, the process also involves hazardous material. So, to what extent, do the recent ship recycling laws in India ensure environment protection and the safety and welfare of the workers working in the industry?

The process of ship recycling is hazardous since end-of-life vessels contain toxic materials such as asbestos, whose release into the local environment may threaten the health and well-being of the personnel engaged in ship recycling, local communities, wildlife, etc. However, the same process generates employment, skill and development, and enables reuse of valuable materials, which in turn contributes towards sustaining a circular economy. Therefore, the Supreme Court (Research Foundation for Science Technology National Resource Policy v. Union of India[1]) has also clarified that, rather than the discontinuance of ship recycling activities, the need is for their strict and proper regulation.


Realising this need, India became a party to the Hong Kong Convention[2], in 2019, and subsequently, enacted the Recycling of Ships Act, 2019, and its Rules in 2021. The Hong Kong Convention sets global standards for safe and environmentally sound ship recycling, by covering the design, construction, operation and maintenance of ships and requiring an inventory of all hazardous materials on board. Also, ship recycling facilities are required to provide a “ship recycling plan”, specifying how each ship will be recycled, based on its particular characteristics and its inventory of hazardous materials.


The current ship recycling laws of India substantially incorporate the provisions of the Hong Kong Convention.


Under the Recycling of Ships Act, 2019, the Director General of Shipping, Government of India, has been designated as the national authority to administer, supervise and monitor all activities relating to ship recycling. Also, the provisions cover the detailed procedure to be followed by ship recyclers, ship owners and ships to meet the purpose of environmentally sound recycling of ships, workers safety, training and insurance and emergency preparedness and response. This includes the process for obtaining certificates of inventory of hazardous materials and ready for recycling; authorisation of ship recycling facility; preparation of ship recycling facility management plan and ship recycling plan; inspection of a ship recycling facility and ships; and certain reporting requirements. Notably, contravention of these provisions entails high penalties or even imprisonment or both, as the case may be.

  1. India is currently in its progressing stage on amending maritime laws and also revamping the entire legislations such as the recent Merchant Shipping Bill. So what is the necessity and the key elements involved in the process?

Yes, India is looking to revamp and upgrade its maritime legal framework to meet the contemporary and applicable international law and standards. In fact, the need to strengthen the current policy and institutional framework has been clearly emphasised in the Maritime India Vision 2030 (MIV 2030), which suggests amendments to existing shipping/maritime legislation, such the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, Light House Act, 1927, Indian Ports Act, 1908, etc. A national committee has been tasked for this purpose under the MIV 2030.


To briefly point a few, public consultations have revealed the need for a new merchant shipping legislation to provide, among other things, a holistic regulation to all kinds of ships/vessels, a single point ship registration regime, reduce compliance burden for Indian vessels, increase the quality and quantity of Indian tonnage, incorporate enhanced provisions for protection and preservation of marine environment and coastline interests, seamlessly integrate coastal and inland shipping, and enhance ease of doing business. These measures are largely aimed at boosting the capacity of even small entrepreneurs to participate in the maritime sector, which will ultimately lead towards “AatmaNirbhar” or self-reliant India.

  1. Please apprise our readers about the Maritime India Summit held in March 2021 and the Maritime India Vision 2030. Please also explain your role towards the same.

Maritime India Summit 2021 (MIS 2021) was a flagship initiative of the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Government of India, organised in the month of March 2021. The theme of this event was to explore the potential business opportunities in the Indian maritime sector and making AatmaNirbhar India. This 3-day summit and exhibition event was inaugurated by Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


The MIS 2021 was a platform aimed at attracting huge investments and creating business and employment opportunities in the maritime sector. The Directorate organised the road show and memorandum of understanding (MoU) signing ceremony as a prelude to the MIS 2021. To this end, I had the privilege of contributing to the process of signing of various national and international MoUs, which ultimately are aimed to support the national cause of boosting India’s maritime business and employment (nationally and internationally) through an investment worth over Rs 20,000 crores. It is expected that these MoUs will be generating employment opportunities for around 50,000 seafarers in five years.


The MIS 2021 also witnessed the release of the “MIV 2030”, and “Sagar-Manthan”: Mercantile Maritime Domain Awareness Centre (MM-DAC), which is an information system for enhancing maritime safety, search and rescue capabilities, security and marine environment protection.


As to the MIV 2030, it encapsulates India’s decade long blueprint to accelerate India’s maritime growth. It analyses current and future challenges, drives innovation by utilising latest technology, creates time-bound action plan, understands current standing and adopts best-in-class practices, addresses capability building and human resources and attempts to achieve “waste to wealth”. For this purpose, it identifies 14 thrust areas to meet 10 key maritime themes for India. These themes revolve around port infrastructure, ship building, repair and recycling, movement in inland waterways, cruise tourism, India’s international cooperation, safe sustainable and green shipping, maritime training, etc. In this direction, I have the prestigious opportunity as one of the National Committee members to work with the Directorate and various experts and luminaries towards reforming India’s maritime legal architecture to meet MIV 2030.

  1. Does your present professional capacity lead to legal interaction with maritime cases and casualties, such as the recent “New Diamond Ship case” or casualties resulting from cyclone Tauktae, or those consequent to the impact of Covid-19? If so, kindly give details of the same.

Yes, I have interacted with certain legal issues that arise in cases of maritime casualties, as well as those consequent to Covid-19. For instance, the Directorate was involved in the firefighting/emergency operations in the case of the MT New Diamond Ship case, which caught fire off the Sri Lankan coast last year. Hence, my role relates to the legal issues arising in such cases of salvage or emergency operations undertaken. As to cases arising consequent to cyclones that impact ships and life at sea, I examine the legal obligations of the stakeholders that interact with the domain of the Directorate, where so required. As to legal issues arising consequent to Covid-19, my role, among other things, relates to matters of force majeure or the application/relevance/implication of various executive orders to stakeholders, such as shipping lines or seafarers.

  1. Please apprise our readers about India’s international cooperation in the maritime sector, such as with reference to the International Maritime Organisation?

India has been active with its international cooperation, particularly in the maritime sector. For instance, India has been one of the earliest members of the IMO, having ratified its convention and joined it as a member State, in the year 1959. India actively participates in the meetings of the committees and sub-committees of the IMO. India has also been an active contributor to various international/UN bodies, such as the ILO, International Mobile Satellite Organisation, International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds, Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).


So far, India is party to 35 of the international instruments adopted by the IMO and 1 by the ILO. Also, India has implemented all major safety, environmental and labour conventions of the IMO and ILO. As to the IMO, India has had the privilege of continuously representing in category (b) of the Council of the IMO ever since its inception, except for one term between 1983 and 1984. Presently, India has been elected as a member of category (b) of the Council of the IMO, representing nations with the largest in international seaborne trade.

  1. Is there any piece of advice that you would like to give to the readers who might want to follow your steps?

In my opinion, everyone has their own journey to recognise what suits their personal and professional interests. Personally, I have always been open to recognise that there may be many things which I may not be aware of, and yet I have been extremely keen on trying to inculcate awareness of various subjects. In this process, I realised that I developed likeness for maritime law. For instance, I was unaware of admiralty or maritime law, until I interned or participated in extracurricular and co-curricular activities. This is evidence that open-mindedness to attempt and explore helps, which may prove beneficial to others as well.

[1](2005) 10 SCC 510, para 43.

[2]Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009.

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