Ship Registration: Law and Practice

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22.1 The Republic of Singapore is an island city State located between Malaysia and Indonesia. Founded by Sir Stamford Raffles as a British trading colony in 1819, it has long been the focal point of south-east Asian sea routes. Singapore achieved independence from the Malaysian Federation in 1965 and has a written constitution and a legal system based on English common law. English is the official administrative language of the country. With a population of around six million, it is a prosperous and successful financial services and transportation hub. The free market economy depends heavily on exports, and the port of Singapore is one of the busiest in the world in terms of tonnage handled. The local currency is the Singapore Dollar (SGD). 22.2 The Singapore Registry of Ships was established in 1966 and is operated as a division of the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore, a statutory board created by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore Act 1996. The Singapore flag State is not an open registry because it restricts ownership to Singapore nationals or companies. With certain exceptions, the Singapore-incorporated company may, however, have foreign ownership or control but the management of the vessel must be Singapore-resident. In this way it is a leading example of a closed register and has been successful in this model. By 2017, it was the fifth largest register in the world by dead-weight tonnage with over 6% of the global merchant fleet.1 In April 2017, MPA signed a joint memorandum of understanding with the Danish Maritime Authority and the Norwegian Maritime Authority promoting the mutual recognition of electronic certificates under their respective flags for port entry and Port State Control inspections, as well as the sharing of information and experiences relating to issuance, use and acceptance of such certificates.

Sources of law

22.3 The registration of vessels under the Singapore flag is governed by the Merchant Shipping Act 1996 (Act 7 of 1996, Cap. 179) as amended. Unless otherwise stated, all references to sections in this chapter are references to sections of the Merchant Shipping Act.

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Vessel eligibility

Vessel type

22.4 The statutory definition of a ship is “any kind of vessel used in navigation by water, however propelled or moved” and includes barges, lighters, air-cushion vehicles and mobile offshore drilling units.

Age limits

22.5 Vessels will not generally be eligible for registration in Singapore if they are more than 17 years old.


22.6 A Singapore-registered vessel must be owned by a citizen or permanent resident of Singapore, or a company incorporated in Singapore with a minimum paid-up share capital of SGD 50,000. A Singapore incorporated company in which more than 50% of its equity is owned by non-citizens of Singapore, is described as a ‘foreign owned company’. Such companies are permitted to register any self-propelled vessels of not less than 1,600 GT. Applications by a foreign-owned company to allow registration of a vessel which is not self-propelled or which is of less than 1,600 GT may be requested from the MPA if the vessel is proved to be operated from or based in Singapore.

Company formation

22.7 The formation and operation of Singapore companies is governed by the Companies Act (2006, Revised Edition, Cap. 50). Every Singaporean company is required to have a registered office in Singapore.


22.8 As described above, a distinction is drawn between locally owned and foreign-owned Singapore incorporated companies. A Singapore company need only have one shareholder. There is no restriction on a shareholder’s nationality. The shareholder can be a natural person or a company. However, if the Singapore company intends to register any vessel with the MPA, it must have a minimum paid-up capital of SGD 50,000. Further, in the event that the Singapore company intends to register a vessel with tonnage of less than 1,600 GT or a vessel which is not self-propelled, such as a dumb barge, then the majority of the issued share capital of the company must be owned by Singapore citizens, Singapore permanent residents, or by Singapore companies whose majority shareholding is held by Singaporeans or Singapore permanent residents, unless a specific waiver to this requirement is obtained from the MPA.


22.9 A Singapore company must have a minimum of one director who must be ordinarily resident in Singapore. Corporate directors are not allowed in Singapore.

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22.10 Every Singapore company must have a company secretary. If the Singapore company has only one director, this sole director cannot also perform the role of the company secretary. The nationality of a company secretary is immaterial, save that he or she must be ordinarily resident in Singapore and save that the directors of the company have to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the company secretary has the requisite knowledge and experience to discharge his duties.

Returns and accounts

22.11 Singapore companies are required to file an annual return each year with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority of Singapore (ACRA), showing, inter alia, the summary of the share capital and shares and the company’s financial highlights. The company’s audited accounts (where the company’s revenue exceeds SGD 10 million) or unaudited accounts (where the company’s revenue does not exceed SGD 10 million) must also be filed at ACRA, together with the annual return.

Bareboat charter registration

22.12 Singapore law permits the ‘flagging-out’ of bareboat chartered vessels from the Singapore flag on satisfying the documentary requirements and procedures described below and upon payment of the appropriate fee. The Registrar of Singapore Ships has the discretion to allow ‘flagging-in’ of vessels which are primary registered in another State on a case-by-case basis.


22.13 An application to ‘flag-out’ a Singapore-registered vessel to a foreign bareboat charter registry will require the owner to submit documents to the MPA, namely:
  • (1) a completed application form;
  • (2) the return of the certificate of Singapore registry;
  • (3) a certified transcript of registry or similar document evidencing the bareboat registration in the vessel in the secondary flag State; and
  • (4) a certified true copy of the bareboat charterparty.

Provisional suspension of the Singapore registration of the vessel may be granted upon payment of the requisite fee in circumstances where these documents may be unavailable at the time of the bareboat charter-out application, upon the condition that such documents are provided within 60 days. During the period of suspension of the Singapore registration of the vessel, the Merchant Shipping Act ceases to apply, save for provision relating to the property of the vessel and any registered mortgages. In this way both proprietary and security interests are maintained intact and subject to Singapore law throughout the period of bareboat charter-out. During the period of suspension, annual tonnage tax continues to be payable in respect of the vessel to the Singapore Registry.

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