Singapore As The Asian Forum To Arbitrate Maritime Disputes

The nature of maritime disputes can be complex and wide ranging; disputes can arise out of ship mortgages, ship repairs, demurrage, wharfage and dockage, charterparties, marine insurance, seafarer’s employment, and collisions.

Due to the multi-jurisdictional nature of shipping, the enforceability arbitration awards is also crucial as assets are often located in different jurisdictions.

In making that decision, what’s most important is that parties to the dispute feel confident in the process and trust that the arbitral outcomes will be upheld.

There are several potential venues for maritime arbitration such as Shanghai,  Dubai, Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore and London.

For Asia based maritime arbitration, Singapore and Hong Kong have been the strongest contenders.

In 2021, 17% of Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre’s registered cases arose from the maritime sector, this compares to 24.2% of international trade matters and 19.5% of corporate matters, which took the top two spots.

But Hong Kong’s intrinsic ties to the mainland can also prove tricky—dispute parties that are not based in China may prefer a forum outside of Greater China to resolve their disputes, for neutrality concerns.

Singapore, in that event, becomes a much more viable option, which points to why Singapore’s maritime disputes volume logged in [when?] trumped that of Hong Kong.

SIAC and the SCMA

Maritime disputes can be referred to the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) as well as the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA), the latter of which is designed to specifically cater to the maritime community.

In 2020, the SCMA registered 43 case references involving a total claim sum of $50 million, with over half of the disputants coming from Asia.

In recent years, the SCMA has worked particularly hard to attract more international matters. It recently inked a memorandum of understanding with the Guangzhou Arbitration Commission to help promote arbitration across both centres, including enabling them to tap into arbitrators for each other’s panels, as well as signed an agreement with the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers in Singapore to hold regular joint events and cross-representation across the bodies.

At the start of this year, the SCMA also introduced some vital changes to its rules to address the evolving expectations of society and needs of the sector to increase user-friendliness. These changes include:

  • Gender neutral language;
  • Technological updates including virtual hearings, electronic service of documents, and e-signatures;
  • Documents-only arbitrations may be conducted by two arbitrators without the appointment of a third;
  • Doubling the former US$150,000 limit for the Expedited Procedure to increase capacity for hearing more shipping disputes; and
  • Standardising the Terms of Appointment of arbitrators to ensure greater transparency.

As a final note, Singapore has also gained an edge with its services in mediation, which is increasingly becoming a preferred method used to resolve maritime matters as it preserves relationships and aims for agreed outcomes. We’ve written about mediation (and other avenues for resolution) for shipping disputes here.

Maritime disputes often require representative lawyers to have a significant level of industry specific experience, as well as technical knowledge.

At JTJB, our maritime lawyers have acted in all kinds of shipping disputes. Whether our clients are large international shipping corporations or crew members needing expert and intuitive legal advice, we provide a service combining in-depth knowledge of maritime law and the maritime sector with a practical approach aimed at achieving the desired outcome.

For further information, please contact:

Mary-Anne Chua


JTJB Singapore Office
E : maryanne@jtjb.com
T : 6324 0613