Bom HC | Court does not have jurisdiction to order payment of wages under S. 129 of Merchant Shipping Act; held, shipping master solely empowered therefor

Bombay High Court: K.R. Shriram, J. dismissed an admiralty suit filed by the plaintiff insofar as he claimed wages under the provision of Section 129 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958.

The plaintiff was a seafarer and worked as Chief Engineer on board two shipping vessels — namely, Malaviya Thirty-Three and Bharati-S — both owned by GOI Offshore Ltd., which was under liquidation. According to him, wages which were due to him from working on both the vessels were not paid to him. He claimed the same under the present suit along with interest. The plaintiff further claimed wages under Section 129 of the Merchant Shipping Act.

Vikrant Shetty, counsel for the plaintiff, contended that Section 129 provides for time of payment of wages, and if the payment is not made within such time, the plaintiff is entitled for further payment of wages for the delayed period. Per contra, counsel for the defendant, S. Priya along with Aparna Sinha, did not dispute the plaintiff’s claim for the payment of wages payable for his employment on the two vessels. She, however, disputed the claim raised under Section 129.

The question before the Court was whether the plaintiff was entitled to approach the Court to claim the amount under Section 129 of the Merchant Shipping Act?

After discussing the provisions of Section 129 (time of payment of wages) and Section 132 (decision of questions by shipping masters), the High Court observed: “any claim for wages under Section 129 can be made only to the shipping master and if the shipping master passes an order within the limit of his jurisdiction, that could be enforced by a Judicial Magistrate of the first class or a Metropolitan Magistrate as provided in Section 132(3) as an order for payment of wages made by such Magistrate.”

It was noted that there are no averments in the plaint whatsoever as to how the plaintiff claims he is entitled to the amounts as claimed under Section 129 of the MS Act. Finally, it was held that since the jurisdiction is not with the High Court but only with the shipping master under Section 129, the Court could not determine the claim under Section 129. Therefore, the claim to such extent was rejected.[Jagdish Singh Bhaduria v. Bharati-S, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 1179, decided on 05-07-2019]

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