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Use of Satellite Phones in Indian Waters


Heloise Campbell

Published: June 01, 2015


The Club has seen a number of recent incidents where the port authorities in India have detained vessels in order to investigate the use of satellite phones in Indian Waters in breach of criminal and customs law. These incidents have resulted in significant delays and expenses for the owners. Therefore it is important that Masters of vessels sailing into Indian ports are aware of the restrictions and take appropriate steps to avoid breaching these.

Satellite phones were used by the terrorists involved in the attacks in Mumbai. Following this, the use of these phones was made illegal in India because the manufacturers who produce these devices could not prove to the Indian government that they could not be abused by terrorists in the future.

Director General Shipping Order No. 02 of 2012 provides that the unauthorised use of Thuraya, Iridium and other such satellite phones is banned in Indian territorial waters. The legislation for this is Section 6 of Indian Wireless Act and Section 20 of Indian Telegraph Act. If one of these phones is on board the vessel, we understand that the Indian authorities require that it is kept in a bonded store on the ship under customs seal.

If there are satellite phones available on board, they are required to be announced within the pre-arrival notification issued to the Indian port authorities. If there are errors in these documents, customs fines can be imposed.

The Club understands that port agents of vessels bound for Indian ports routinely make vessel Masters aware of these restrictions. Despite this, the Club has been involved with two incidents where crew were allowed to use these phones in Indian territorial waters.

In one incident, shore monitoring of transmissions by the local authorities identified the vessel involved and local police/customs initiated an investigation. As a result of the use of the phone, separate customs and criminal proceedings were initiated by the local authorities. In addition to this, as a result of a perceived risk to national security by the local authorities at the port, the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi was notified.

The maximum fine for breaching the criminal regulations is INR 1,000 and/or imprisonment for three years for each crew member involved. In addition to this, fines can also be imposed for failure to declare any satellite phones in accordance with the customs regulations.

Moreover, it should be noted if the breach is seen to be a state security matter, there is likely to be a complicated and time consuming investigation. We understand that this is probably more likely to happen at smaller more remote ports than at larger ones which may be more familiar with dealing with such issues. In any event, severe delays/detention of the vessel are likely, in addition to which the crew involved potentially face criminal sanctions and significant costs can be incurred in defending the proceedings and securing permission for the vessel to depart the Indian port.

As a result of these incidents, Members are cautioned to instruct their Masters to closely follow the instructions of DGS Order No. 2. In addition to this, it is recommended that Masters take a broad interpretation of the requirement to declare satellite phones and declare all such equipment on board, and not just Thuraya phones, in the vessel’s import documentation. It is also recommended that Masters keep such phones under their custody in a bonded store for as long as the vessel remains in Indian territorial waters.

If Members should have any questions about the restrictions please do contact the Club and we will provide any necessary guidance.

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