Seafarer’s right of lien subsists even when recruited through a crewing agent

Bombay High Court: The Single Bench of S. J. Kathawalla, J. has held that the mere fact that a seafarer (crew member) was appointed by and under an Agreement with a crewing and manning agent, and not an Agreement with the Owner, would not defeat his lien over the Vessel. The plaintiff had sued the defendant Vessel for recovery of unpaid wages towards services rendered as Chief Engineer of the Vessel. The Owner of the Vessel had submitted that the suit was not maintainable because the crewing and manning agent was liable and responsible for clearance of wages, and the Owner had not been impleaded as a party, and the plaintiff had already approached the Shipping Master under Section 132 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958.
The High Court noted that it was well established that seafarers had a right of lien over the Vessel for non-payment of wages towards services rendered on board the Vessel. The Court added that barring a seafarer from exercising his lien over the Vessel merely because he was recruited through a crewing and manning agent would defeat the purpose of Section 139 of the Merchant Shipping Act. Moreover, if reliefs were sought solely against the Vessel, the plaintiff was entitled to proceed in rem against the Vessel, without having to implead the Owner. The Court also observed that the plaintiff had merely sent a letter to the Shipping Master requesting him to take action, and the same did not amount to referring the dispute under Section 132 of the Act, especially when the amount in dispute exceeded the limits specified therein. Thus, the plaintiff was allowed to invoke the Admiralty Jurisdiction and the Vessel was ordered to be arrested. [Bharat Kumar Vithaldas Ved v. MALAVIYA THIRTY THREE, 2017 SCC OnLine Bom 700, decided on 26.04.2017]

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