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Starting a Shipping Company in Singapore

With over 5000 shipping companies contributing about 7% of the GDP, Singapore is a leading International Maritime Centre, connected to more than 600 ports in over 120 countries. Given its reputation as a premier global port, Singapore is the preferred choice for many wanting to establish shipping or maritime business operations.

For most small to medium sized companies, uncertain of the legal requirements, setting up a shipping company is often viewed as a daunting process. This guide acts as a reference, providing you with a starting point on the minimum legal requirements that you need to be aware of while setting up your shipping/maritime business operations in Singapore. These include legislations for:

  • operating vessels within and outside Singapore’s port
  • crew members to work on-board your vessels
  • dealing with dangerous goods
  • operating certain communication equipment on-board your vessel etc.

Incentives for shipping companies in Singapore

With the view of recognising and supporting the needs of the shipping industry in Singapore, the Maritime and Port Authority has introduced financial, manpower development and R & D schemes. Small and medium enterprises can especially benefit by capitalising on the below mentioned programmes and assistance schemes:

  • Approved International Shipping Enterprise (AIS) scheme – offers shipping companies tax exemption on qualifying shipping income for 10 years.
  • Approved Shipping Logistics (ASL) scheme – offers shipping companies a concessionary tax rate of not less than 10% on incremental income derived from providing freight and logistics services.
  • Maritime Finance Incentive (MFI) scheme – offers shipping companies that finance maritime vessels and sea containers tax concessions for up to 10 years on their qualifying leasing income.
  • Maritime Cluster Fund – offers scholarship schemes, course fee subsidies and attachment programmes for the development of manpower, local training infrastructure and capabilities within the maritime industry.
  • Maritime Seed Fund (MSF) – offers financial assistance to start-ups or growing maritime companies that strive to introduce innovative products and services in the industry.

Requirements and procedure of setting up a shipping company in Singapore

Step 1 – Incorporate business

Once you have decided to establish a shipping company, you must incorporate your company. This is a statutory requirement. Incorporating a private limited company in Singapore is a fairly straightforward and quick process although certain statutory requirements apply. For more details, refer to Singapore company formation procedure.

Step 2 – Find suitable premises

After business incorporation, you must find suitable premises to set up your shipping company office. There are different rental options available in Singapore that cater to your specific business needs. For a detailed guide on the various rental options available, refer to office space options in Singapore.

Step 3 – Hire Staff

You may intend to hire employees to work on board your vessel and/or employees to work in your shipping company office. In either case, you need to comply with certain legislatons. Employees hired to work on-board your vessel need to hold a valid Port Limit Manning Licence. For more details, refer to the Port Limit Manning Licence section below. If you intend to hire office staff to work in your shipping company office, you must adhere to the hiring guidelines for local and foreign employees in Singapore. For details, refer to employee hiring guide for Singapore companies.

Step 4 – Apply for Licences and Permits

You must apply for the relevant licences and permits, depending on whether they apply to your business operations. The basic licences/permits include:

  • Harbour Craft Licence – To operate vessels within Singapore’s port
  • Port Clearance Certificate – To operate vessels beyond Singapore’s port
  • Ship Registration Certificate – To transport passengers or goods
  • Port Limit Manning Licence – For crew members to work on-board your ships and vessels
  • Launch a New Vessel Permit – To launch a new vessel more than 15 meters long in the port
  • Ship Station Licence – To operate radio-communication equipment on your Singapore registered ship
  • Ship Sanitation Control Certificate – To certify your vessel’s sanitary condition to transport goods
  • Permit to discharge/load/transit dangerous goods and dock vessels carrying such goods
  • Other Licences and Permits for related activities

Harbour Craft Licence

It is mandatory to obtain the Harbour Craft Licence, issued by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, to operate vessels used for commercial purposes within Singapore’s Port. Harbour Craft Licences are categorised based on the type of vessel and the purpose it is used for. The various licence categories include, barges, tugboats, bum-boats, tankers, ferries, cruise ships etc.

Applying for a Harbour Craft Licence

Step 1 – File Application and submit necessary documents

  • Application Form – You must submit a duly completed application Form for a harbour craft licence to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.
  • Supporting Documents – Along with the application form you will have to submit the originals and copies of the following documents:
    • Identity Card NRIC for licensing in the name of one or more individuals
    • Certificate of Registration from Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) for licensing in the name of a corporate body.
    • Proof of ownership – Bill of Sale, Charter Agreement, Builder’s Certificate, Hull Receipt or Invoice, etc
    • Proof of origin of vessel – Launching Permit, Import Permit, General Arrival Declaration (as applicable)
    • Insurance Policy – A marine policy covering third party liabilities including wreck removal and personal/passenger injuries
    • Craft’s manning – MPA Manning licence (For details on this licence, please refer below)
    • Letter of approval for use of pier/landing places where applicable issued by the owner/manager of the facilities
    • Any other documents or requirements as may be required by the Port Master
  • Once you all have all of the above documents ready, you should submit them Mon-Fri 8:30am-5:30pm at the MPA’S One-Stop Document Centre.

Step 2 – Arrange for Inspection of vessel

  • In order to obtain a Harbour Craft Licence, every vessel must pass an inspection. You are required to arrange with the MPA’s One-Stop Document Centre for the place, date and time of the inspection in person at least one week in advance. Payment of inspection fee is not required at this stage.

Step 3 – Make payment and Receive Licence

  • Once the craft passes the inspection, you will receive a Craft Inspection Report. Within seven days you will need to make all the necessary fees and dues payment. Details of fees and dues payable can be found here. Once all dues have been settled you will receive a craft licence certificate specifying the craft licence number. You must display the craft licence in a conspicuous place on board at all times. Additionally the licence number must be legible and visible on the vessel at all times.

Port Clearance for vessels departing from Singapore

  • Harbour craft licences are issued purely for the use of the vessel within the port limits of Singapore. Should you require your vessel to depart from the port limits, you must first compulsorily obtain a Port Clearance Certificate from the Maritime and Port Authority.
  • The Port clearance procedure requires you to make a declaration before your vessel departs from Singapore. This involves submitting to the MPA’s One Stop Document Centre a general declaration form along with the necessary supporting documents.
  • On receiving the form and documents the MPA will arrange for an inspection. Once all the requirements are met and port dues have been paid, the MPA will issue the Port Clearance Certificate.
  • You must ensure that your vessel departs from Singapore within 48 hours after obtaining the Port Clearance Certificate.

Port clearance for vessels arriving in Singapore

  • If your vessel is arriving in Singapore, you must ensure that you make a declaration within 24 hours of the vessel’s arrival in Singapore.
  • You must submit to the MPA’s One Stop Document Centre a general declaration form along with the necessary supporting documents viz.
    • Original Port Clearance of last port of call,
    • Certificate of Insurance in respect of Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (if applicable) and
    • IMO Certificate of Fitness for LNG/LPG and vessels carrying dangerous chemicals in bulk
  • On receiving the form and documents the MPA will allot a General Declaration of Vessel Number (GDV Number) and stamp this number on all copies of the General Declaration. The MPA will retain the original copy of the General Declaration for arrival of vessel.

Please note that the port clearance formalities can also be done online by using the Electronic Port Clearance (EPC) scheme via Marinet.

Ship Registration Certificate

It is mandatory to register all ships. Ships can be registered under either a “foreign flag” (foreign ships) or under the “Singapore Flag” (local ships). All types of ships can be registered under the Singapore Flag with the Singapore Registry of Ships (SRS).

Registering ships with the SRS

Step 1 – Review Pre-requisites

  • The ship owner and the vessel need to satisfy certain pre-requisites prior to ship registration in Singapore.
    • Only the following may be registered as owners of Singapore vessels:
      • Singapore citizens or Singapore Permanent Residents.
      • Companies incorporated in Singapore – foreign owned (more than 50% of its equity is owned by foreigners) or locally owned (more than 50% of its equity owned by Singapore citizens or another locally owned company)
    • If the vessel is owned by a foreign company, it can be registered in Singapore only if:
      • The company has a minimum paid-up capital of SGD 50,000.
      • The vessel is at least 1,600 GT (gross tonnage) and must be self-propelled.
      • Sometimes exemptions on the minimum paid up capital and gross tonnage are granted on a case-by-case basis, subject to certain conditions and at the discretion of the Registrar.
  • If the vessel is locally owned, it may be registered in Singapore if the company satisfies the minimum paid-up capital requirement.
  • Generally, ships less than 17 years will be considered for registration.

Step 2 – Write in to Registrar of Ships

  • Once you have satisfies all the pre-requisites you must write in to the Registrar of Ships for approval of your vessel name and application for an official number for the vessel.

Step 3 – Submit Application form and Supporting Documents

  • You can choose to either apply for a provisional registration, valid for up-to 1 year or permanent registration.
  • You will need to submit the following application forms along with the relevant supporting documents.
    • Duly completed registration application form
    • Appointment of manager form for appointing a vessel manager who will be responsible for the operations of the vessel.
    • Appointment of agent form, applicable only if the person signing the Application Form is other than the Director/Secretary of the company.
    • Supporting documents
      • Business Profile Printout as lodged with ACRA
      • Proof of ownership – Copy of builder certificate or bill of sale (as applicable)
      • Value of vessel in Singapore Dollars
      • Tonnage certificate
      • Vessel classification certificate
    • Other statutory certificates, as applicable

Step 4 – Pay fees and receive Certificate of Registry

  • After submitting the relevant documents you must proceed to pay the initial registration fee and annual tonnage tax. Once all documents have been approved by the Registrar, the Certificate of Registry and a Carving and Marking Note will be issued to you.

Port Limit Manning Licence

  • It is mandatory that every crew on-board your harbour craft holds a valid Port Limit Manning Licence. There are different categories of Manning Licences issued for various types of crew members.
  • You are required to submit to the MPA’s One Stop Document Centre, a duly completed Port Limit Manning Licence Application Form for each crew member along with each crew member’s supporting documents like:
    • Certificate of Competency or Result slip from MPA’s Maritime and Port Training Section
    • Identity Card/NRIC (for locals) and Passport (for foreigners)
    • Certificates of relevant additional courses attended
    • Work Permit / Employment Pass (for foreigners only)
  • The licence fee for 5 years is SGD 10. Upon successful receipt of the form, documents and fee the MPA will issue the Port Limit Manning Licence.

Please note: Owners of Singapore registered ships will have to comply with certain minimum manning requirements.

Launching a new vessel in port

  • Launching a new vessel more than 15 meters long in the port requires written permission from the Port Master.
  • You are required to submit two copies of the duly completed, signed and stamped Permission to Launch a Newly Constructed Vessel Into the Waters of the Port form to the MPA’s One Stop Document Centre, within 3 working days prior to launching the vessel.
  • Please note that it is only upon receiving a ‘Permit to Launch a New Vessel’ that you can launch your new vessel in the Port of Singapore.

Ship Station Licence

  • If you wish to operate radio-communication equipment installed on-board your Singapore registered ship, you must obtain a ship station licence from the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore.
  • You can apply for this licence online via IDA’s Telecom Licencing Systemby submitting the application form and supporting documents such as:
    • Certificate of Registry or MPA Harbour Craft Licence
    • Safety Radio Certificate (if applicable)
    • Radio Operator’s Certificate of Competency (if applicable)
  • At the time of application you will have to make a licence fee payment of SGD 100 per ship station licence.
  • Upon successful receipt of all documents and payments the IDA will take approximately 7 working days to process your application and issue the licence to you. The licence is valid for up-to 5 years.

Ship Sanitation Control / Ship Sanitation Control Exemption Certificate

  • It is advisable to obtain a Ship Sanitation Control Certificate issued by the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) Port Health Office, to certify that your vessel is in a safe and sanitary condition to transport goods.
  • Applications can be made online by filling in an application form and paying a licence fee of SGD 170 or SGD 230 depending on the gross tonnage of your vessel.
  • Upon successful receipt of your application and payment the NEA will take approximately one working day to process your application and issue the licence.

Dangerous Goods

  • If your arriving vessel is carrying any dangerous goods, petroleum or explosives or if you intend to discharge or load such items in the port, it is imperative to give prior notice of such arriving vessels and obtain permission to load or discharge such material from the Port Master.
  • The notification of arrival and application to discharge/load/transit must be made at least 12 hours ahead of the vessel’s arrival or loading/discharging activity, by submitting a duly completed notification form to the MPA’s Hazardous Cargo Section.
  • Furthermore, should you wish to dock tankers and conventional vessels carrying bulk liquid cargo at approved wharves, you must seek permission by submitting a duly completed application form to the Port Marine Safety Department .

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