14 April 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused great uncertainty and disrupted the operations of businesses in Singapore and around the world. Various governments have adopted exceptional measures to cope with the crisis, such as lockdown of areas or transnational borders, travel restrictions, shutdown of workplaces and mandatory quarantine orders. In Singapore, the authorities have responded to the Covid-19 outbreak with a slew of new regulatory initiatives. This article aims to summarise the measures which relate to the shipping industry in Singapore.

1. Port Regulations

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (“MPA”) has issued a number of circulars and notices outlining new measures intended to deal with the consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak. A non-exhaustive summary of these circulars and notices, as of 13 April 2020, is set out below.

(a) Maritime-related essential services exempted from general closure of workplace premises under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations

Regulation 9(1) read together with Regulation 1(2) of the newly promulgated Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations 2020 (“Control Order Regulations”) stipulates that all non-residential premises must be closed for the period between 7 April 2020 and 4 May 2020 (both days inclusive). Regulation 10(1) of the Control Order Regulations, however, provides that essential service providers may continue to carry out business.

In Port Marine Circular No 20 of 2020 dated 3 April 2020, MPA clarified that the maritime sector, being a key economic sector and the Port of Singapore being critical in ensuring the flow of goods, will remain open for cargo operations and will continue to provide essential marine services including bunkering, ship stores and ship supplies notwithstanding the aforesaid general closure of workplace premises. The list of maritime-related essential services which will be exempted from suspension includes the following:

  • Shipping, e.g. ship operators and liner operators;
  • Shipping-related services, e.g. ship management and ship agencies;
  • Safety and navigation services, e.g. class societies, pilotage, salvage and towage;
  • Port and terminal operations including construction; and
  • Port marine services, e.g. ship chandlers, bunkering and ferry services.

Maritime-related entities which are exempted will receive a confirmation email of the exemption from MPA by 3 April 2200h and they can also check their exemption status at www.mpa.gov.sg/es_enquiry from 3 April 2200h onwards. That being said, providers of maritime-related essential services should adhere to the requirements and restrictions set out in the Control Order Regulations as well as the various health advisories promulgated by MPA (see section (c) below). Insofar as the Control Order Regulations are concerned, companies should take note, among other things, of:

  • Regulation 10B, which imposes a list of obligations on occupiers of permitted premises; and
  • Part 3A, which sets out further requirements in relation to essential service providers and essential service workers (e.g. the implementation of telecommuting and safe distancing arrangements).

Non-compliance with the Control Order Regulations is an offence under both the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 and the Infectious Diseases Act. First time offenders shall be liable on conviction to a fine of up to S$10,000 or imprisonment of up to six months or to both. The penalties are more severe for second or subsequent offences. In addition, non-compliance by persons or operators, could also result in the temporary suspension of operations.

(b) Vessels arriving at Singapore to submit Maritime Declaration of Health no less than 12 hours before arrival

In Port Marine Circular No 16 of 2020 and Port Marine Circular No 18 of 2020, both of which came into effect on 23 March 2020, 2359h, MPA announced that all vessels arriving Port of Singapore must comply with new measures promulgated by the Port Health Office of the National Environmental Agency. All arriving vessels are now required to submit the following documents to the Port Health Office 12 hours before arrival at Port of Singapore:

  • The Maritime Declaration of Health Form;
  • Crew list/Passenger list;
  • Current copy of Ship Sanitation Certificates;
  • Last 10 ports of call list; and
  • List of all passengers and crew members with a temperature above 37.5°C.

Copies of the aforesaid forms and certificates, as well as further details on how the same should be submitted to the Port Health Office, may be obtained from the documents annexed to Port Marine Circular No 16 of 2020. Shipmasters are also required to report unwell crew or passengers to the Port Health Office and make the necessary arrangements to seek medical attention.

(c) Health advisories

In Port Marine Circular No 17 of 2020 and Port Marine Circular No 18 of 2020, MPA issued several health advisories recommending precautions to be undertaken by various sections of the shipping community, both of which took effect on 23 March 2020 2359h, as follows:

  • Operators, owners, masters, persons in charge and crew members of harbour and pleasure craft are advised to observe the precautions set out in Annex B of Port Marine Circular No 17 of 2020.
  • Managers/supervisors of terminal operators, agents, contractors and service providers are to take note of the health advisory in Annex C of Port Marine Circular No 17 of 2020 and bring it to the attention of shore personnel who are required to work on board ships. Shore personnel which refers to any persons, other than the ship’s crew who are required to board ships alongside wharves, in shipyards and at anchorages to deliver services requested by ships are advised to observe the precautions set out in both (i) Annex C of Port Marine Circular No 17, and (ii) paragraphs 5 to 6 of Port Marine Circular No 18 of 2020.
  • Shipowners, ship managers, agents and masters of Singapore-Registered Ships (“SRS”) are advised to observe the precautions set out in Annex D of Port Marine Circular No 17 of 2020.
  • Crew members and shipmasters of vessels alongside wharves, in shipyards and at anchorages are advised to observe the precautions set out in paragraphs 2 to 4 of Port Marine Circular No 18 of 2020.
  • Marine service providers are also advised to observe the precautions set out in paragraphs 5 and 6 of Port Marine Circular No 18 of 2020 when there is a need for interaction between the shore personnel and ship crew when conducting operations.

(d) Crew change allowed only under special circumstances

Pursuant to Port Marine Circular No 18 of 2020, which came into effect from 23 March 2020, 2359h, crew and passengers on short term visits will not be allowed to disembark in Singapore for the time being. Crew change is also disallowed unless there are special circumstances as announced in Port Marine Circular No 19 of 2020 dated 27 March 2020, such as:

  • the crew member has served his/her maximum time on board and no further extension of the employment contract is granted by the flag State;
  • compassionate grounds, e.g. death of family member; or
  • the crew member is no longer medically fit to work on board the ship.

Shipowners who wish to disembark/embark crew in Singapore may submit their requests to MPA for consideration. Such requests must be accompanied by:

  • supporting documentary evidence (e.g. crew’s articles of engagement, or doctor’s certification that crew is no longer able to serve on board the ship);
  • travel itinerary;
  • fit-to-travel certificate; and
  • assurance that the signing on and/or signing off crew must be well for the last 14 days before joining or leaving the ship and has not been in contact with a known or suspect case of Covid-19 in those 14 days.

(e) Temporary prohibition of pleasure craft movement in the Port of Singapore

In Port Marine Circular No 21 of 2020 dated 7 April 2020, MPA announced that, in line with the Ministry of Health’s directive to reduce non-essential movement of persons and interactions in public and private places, all pleasure craft movement for leisure/cruising purposes within the port limits of Singapore will be prohibited from 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020 (inclusive) and the issuance of cruising permits for visiting pleasure yachts to cruise within port limits will be suspended until further notice.

(f) Owners and managers of SRS may apply to MPA for dispensations if prevented from meeting statutory requirements by reason of the Covid-19 outbreak

In Shipping Circular No 3 of 2020, MPA noted that owners and managers of SRS are facing challenges in meeting various statutory requirements under the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour Convention) Act 2014 (“MLC Act”), the Merchant Shipping Act and relevant subsidiary legislation. These challenges may include the timely repatriation of seafarers on board SRS, the inability of seafarers to obtain revalidation of expiring certificates, the inability to obtain shipyard dry-docking services, and the inability to carry out mandatory periodical surveys, audits and inspections in time.

Owners and managers of SRS who face difficulties in meeting such requirements may write in to MPA. MPA has set out a non-exhaustive list of situations in which dispensations may be given:

  • SRS owners and managers who are unable to repatriate seafarers who have completed the employment duration as stipulated in the seafarer’s employment agreement in accordance with section 23 of the MLC Act may submit a request to MPA for an extension of the sea service period.
  • Consideration will be given to allow seafarers who hold foreign issued Certificates of Competencies (“COC”) to continue serving on board SRS,
    if they are unable to revalidate their COC before the expiry date due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
  • Consideration will also be given to the extension of mandatory statutory surveys, inspections or audits.

Further details on how to submit an application for dispensation may be found in Shipping Circular No 3 of 2020.

2. Court will still hear essential and urgent matters (including applications for the arrest or release of a vessel)

The Supreme Court Registry has stated in Registrar’s Circular No 4 of 2020 that every matter scheduled for hearing from 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020 (both days inclusive) will be adjourned unless the matter is assessed to be essential and urgent. A list of essential and urgent matters is set out in Schedule 1 of the aforesaid circular and includes:

  • an application for the arrest or release of a vessel;
  • an application for the discharge of dangerous or perishable cargo; and
  • an application for the judicial sale of a vessel, where the safety of the crew is a concern.

Parties may also request an urgent hearing of any matter which does not fall within Schedule 1. Any such request must be accompanied by reasons explaining why the matter is essential and urgent.

3. Sector-specific support

In the Supplementary Budget 2020 (otherwise known as the “Resilience Budget”), the Ministry of Finance announced that the maritime sector will be receiving sector-specific support from the Singapore Government to help it tide over the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, MPA will:

  • extend the 50% port dues concession for passenger vessels till 31 December 2020, on top of any existing concession;
  • provide additional 35% rebates on top of the existing 15% rebate to regional ferry operators to offset their counter rental and rental fees for overnight berthing at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal for three months from March 2020; and
  • grant 100% waiver of public licence fees for two passenger terminal operators (Singapore Cruise Centre and SATS-Creuers Cruise Services) for one year.

Reference materials

The following reference materials may be of use to persons who wish to find out more about the impact of Covid-19 regulations on the shipping industry in Singapore:

Further information

Allen & Gledhill has a Covid-19 Resource Centre on our website www.allenandgledhill.com that contains knowhow and materials on legal and regulatory aspects of the Covid-19 crisis.

In addition, we have a cross-disciplinary Covid-19 Legal Task Force consisting of Partners across various practice areas to provide rapid assistance. Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at covid19taskforce@allenandgledhill.com.


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