Law of Admiralty

Admiralty action in the jurisdiction of Sri Lanka is derived from the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act No. 40 of 1983 (“AJA”). Section 2(1) lists out the maritime claims upon which admiralty in rem proceedings can be instituted which include claims in relation to goods and services provided to a vessel, claims under charter party agreements, claims under a contract of carriage of goods by a ship and claims on account of unpaid crew wages.

In addition to maritime claims as provided for under the AJA, the Merchant Shipping Act No.52 of 1971 as amended (“MSA”) also lists out maritime liens which rank in priority over the res of a vessel. They are namely (in that order of priority):

  • a creditor by assignment or otherwise, to whom the company is indebted in a sum exceeding Rs.50,000/- then due, has served on the company by leaving it at the registered office of the company, a demand under his hand requiring the company to pay the sum so due and the company has from 3 weeks from the date of so leaving, neglected to pay the sum or to secure or compound it to the reasonable satisfaction of the creditor;

  • Port charges including pilotage dues;

  • Claims against the owner (which for these purposes will also include the charterer, manager or operator of the ship) in respect of loss of life or personal injury occurring, whether on land or water, in direct connection with the operation of the ship;

  • Claims against the owner, based on a wrongful act and not being capable of being based on contract, in respect of loss of or damage to property occurring, whether on land or on water, in direct connection with the operation of a ship;

  • Claims for salvage, wreck removal and contribution in general average.

Marine pollution is another hot topic and aspect which has sprung to the forefront with the expansion of the Colombo Port and private sector participation in terminal operations, especially at the Colombo Port to be followed by the expansion of the Ruhunu Magampura Port at Hambanthota.

The AJA mirrors its English Law counterpart in enabling “sister- ship arrests” in circumstances set out in the AJA.

The procedure governing admiralty actions before the High Court of Colombo is contained in the High Court (Admiralty Jurisdiction) Rules 1991. The administrative constraints involved in depositing the claimed sum in Court as security for the release of a vessel from arrest pending determination of an action has mandated vessel interest holders to deposit security in a quantum and form to the satisfaction of a Plaintiff in securing release.