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Starting a Shipping Company in Singapore

Singapore, which ships to more than 600 ports in 120 countries, is an international maritime hub hosting 5,000+ shipping companies that add about 7 percent to GDP. For those looking to start maritime or shipping business operations, Singapore’s global port has an unexcelled reputation, making it the preferred choice of many.

It might seem daunting to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to navigate the legal requirements necessary to launch a shipping company. As a starting point, you can review this reference guide so that you’ll know the legal basics for embarking on a Singaporean shipping/maritime business. You must be aware of laws governing:

  • How to operate vessels in and out of Singapore’s port
  • Securing crew members to work aboard your vessels
  • Handling dangerous cargo
  • Using certain on-board communication equipment

Incentives for Shipping Companies in Singapore

Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) has developed various financial, R&D and manpower development schemes to help prop up the nation’s shipping industry. Your SME can benefit from the following concoctions:

  • Approved International Shipping Enterprise (AIS) scheme – a 10-year tax exemption on qualifying shipping income
  • Approved Shipping Logistics (ASL) scheme – a 10 percent or higher tax rate concession to shippers on incremental income from delivering logistic or freight services
  • Maritime Finance Incentive (MFI) scheme – a tax concession for up to 10 years to shippers who derive qualifying leasing revenue by financing sea containers or maritime vessels
  • Maritime Cluster Fund – Maritime industry support for manpower development, training infrastructure and capabilities through course fee subsidies, scholarships and attachment programs
  • Maritime Seed Fund (MSF) – Startups interested in innovative products and services receive financial assistance from the MSF

Additional information and instructions to apply for these assistance programs: Maritime Sector Incentive
Additional information regarding tax exemptions for the shipping industry: For Shipping Companies

Requirements and Procedures for Setting Up a Shipping Company In Singapore

Step 1: Incorporate business

By law, you must set up your new company in Singapore. It’s easy and quick, but certain legal requirements must be observed. For additional details, see Singapore company formation procedure.

Step 2: Find suitable premises

Next, find an acceptable place to establish your shipping company’s office. Singapore is chock-a-block with rental options that will suit any specific business requirement.

Step 3: Hire Staff

You’ll need employees to work on your vessel or in your office, and therefore you must adhere to specific regulations:

  1. Onboard workers need to obtain a valid Port Limit Manning Licence, which we discuss below.
  2. For hiring shipping office employees, follow Singapore’s guidelines for employing foreign and local labor, which you can read about in the employee hiring guide for Singapore companies.

Step 4: Apply for Licences and Permits

You will need to apply for the required permits and licences for your particular business operations. Here they are:

  • Harbour Craft Licence – Needed to operate ships within Singapore’s port
  • Port Clearance Certificate – Needed to operate ships beyond Singapore’s port
  • Ship Registration Certificate – Needed to transport passengers or cargo
  • Port Limit Manning Licence – Needed for crew members to work onboard your vessels
  • Launch a New Vessel Permit – Needed to launch in the port a new vessel longer than 15 meters
  • Ship Station Licence – Needed to operate radio-communication equipment aboard your Singapore registered vessel
  • Ship Sanitation Control Certificate – Needed to certify your ship’s sanitary status to transport cargo
  • Permit needed to discharge, load and/or transit dangerous goods and dock vessels carrying this kind of cargo
  • Other required permits and licences for related activities

Step 5: Register for Goods and Services Tax

Your business cannot avoid registering for the GST when you have turnover exceeding S$1 million per year. If you earn less, you can register voluntarily.

Additional information regarding how to charge and claim GST for shipping business: Marine and Shipping

More information about: For Shipping Companies

Harbour Craft Licence

The MPA issues a Harbour Craft License that you must have if you want to commercially operate a vessel in the Port of Singapore. Various vessel- and purpose-related categories exist for barges, bum-boats, tankers, cruise ships, tugboats, mine-layers, ferries, etc.

It is mandatory for you 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 according to type of vessel and the purpose it is put to. The various vessel licence categories include, barges, tugboats, bum-boats, U-boats, tankers, ferries, cruise ships etc.

Applying for a Harbour Craft Licence

Step 1: File Application and submit required documents

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

Step 2: Arrange for Inspection of vessel

  • Each vessel must pass an inspection before you can obtain a Harbour Craft Licence. You must personally arrange at the MPA’s One-Stop Document Centre the inspection’s date, place and time at least one week ahead, but you don’t have to fork over the inspection fee quite yet.

Step 3: Make payment and Receive Licence

  • You will receive a Craft Inspection Report only after all the vessels pass inspection. You then have seven days to cough up all the required fees and dues, which you can read more: APPENDIX 2 – TABLE ON DUES AND FEES FOR LICENSING OF HARBOUR CRAFT. After paying up, you’ll get your craft licence certificate adorned with the license number of the craft. Always keep that number visible and legible on the vessel.

Port Clearance for Vessels Departing From Singapore

  • Harbour craft licences are for use of vessels within the limits of the Port of Singapore. Get a Port Clearance Certificate from the Maritime and Port Authority if you want to leave port.
  • Before leaving Singapore, you must submit a general declaration form along with the required supporting documents to the MPA’s One Stop Document Centre.
  • The MPA will set up an inspection when you submit the documents. You can’t get a Port Clearance Certificate until you meet all the requirements and shell out the port dues.
  • You’ve now got 48 hours to clear out of Singapore or face the consequences.

Port Clearance for Vessels Arriving in Singapore

  • You’ve got 24 hours after entering Singapore to submit a general declaration form, along with the required supporting documents, to the MPA’s One Stop Document Centre.
  • Supporting documents include:
    • IMO Certificate of Fitness for LNG/LPG and vessels hauling hazardous chemicals in bulk,
    • Original Port Clearance of your last port of call, and
    • Certificate of Insurance covering Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (if applicable)
  • The MPA will issue a General Declaration of Vessel Number (GDV Number) and affix this number on all copies of the General Declaration once it receives the form and documents from you.

You can use the Marinet Electronic Port Clearance (EPC) scheme to negotiate the port clearance formalities.

Ship Registration Certificate

All ships must be registered. You can register a local ship under the “Singapore Flag” or a foreign ship under a “foreign flag.” The Singapore Registry of Ships (SRS) will accept registration of all types of vessels flying the Singapore Flag.

Registering Ships with the SRS

Step 1: Review Prerequisites

  • The vessel and its owner must meet certain prerequisites before registering the ship in Singapore.
    • Only these types of people can register as owners of Singapore vessels:
      • Singapore citizens
      • Singapore Permanent Residents
      • Companies incorporated in Singapore – locally owned (more than half of its equity owned by Singapore citizens or by another locally owned company) or foreign owned (more than half of its equity is owned by aliens)
    • If a foreign company owns the vessel, it can be registered in Singapore only if:
      • The company possesses a minimum paid-up capital of SGD 50,000
      • The vessel weights no less than 1,600 GT (gross tonnage) and is self-propelled
      • On a case-by-case basis, subject to certain conditions, the Registrar may grant exemptions to the minimum paid up capital and gross tonnage requirements
    • If the company satisfies the minimum paid-up capital requirement and the vessel is locally owned, it can be registered in Singapore.
    • Generally, vessels aged 17 years or older will not be considered for registration.

Step 2: Write in to Registrar of Ships

  • You must write to the Registrar of Ships for approval of your vessel name and apply for an official number for the vessel once you have met all the prerequisites.

Step 3: Submit Application form and Supporting Documents

  • If you want, you can apply for a provisional registration, good for up-to one year, or apply for permanent registration.
  • You must provide the following application forms along with the related supporting documents.
    • Appointment of manager form for naming a vessel manager who is to blame if anything goes wrong with the operations of the vessel
    • Completed registration application form
    • Appointment of agent form, applicable only if the individual signing the Application Form is something other than the Director/Secretary of the company.
    • Supporting documents
      • Tonnage certificate
      • Business Profile Printout as lodged with ACRA
      • Vessel classification certificate
      • Proof of ownership – Copy of builder certificate or bill of sale (as applicable)
      • Value of vessel in Singapore Dollars
    • Other statutory certificates, as applicable

Step 4: Pay fees and receive Certificate of Registry

  • After providing the relevant documents, you have to pony up the initial registration fee and annual tonnage tax. You’ll get the Certificate of Registry and a Carving and Marking Note once the Registrar approves all documents.

Port Limit Manning Licence

  • Every crewmate on-board your harbour craft must hold a valid Port Limit Manning Licence. Different types of crewmembers get different category licences.
  • For each crew member, submit a completed Port Limit Manning Licence Application Form to the MPA’s One Stop Document Centre along with each crew member’s supporting documents, such as:
    • Work Permit / Employment Pass (for aliens only)
    • Certificate of Competency or Result Slip from MPA’s Maritime and Port Training Section
    • Passport (for aliens) and Identity Card/NRIC (for locals)
    • Certificates of relevant additional courses attended
  • The SGD 10 licence fee is good for five years. The MPA will issue the Port Limit Manning Licence only when it successfully receives the form, documents and fee, not a second sooner.

Attention please: Owners of Singapore registered vessels must comply with certain minimum manning requirements.

Launching a New Vessel in Port

  • The Port Master must give you a written permission slip if you want to launch from port a new ship longer than 15 meters.
  • Within three working days prior to launching the ship, you must provide two copies of the 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.
  • Don’t even think about launching your new vessel in the Port of Singapore until receiving a ‘Permit to Launch a New Vessel.’

Ship Station Licence

  • You must procure a ship station licence from the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore if you want to operate radio-communication equipment installed onboard your Singapore registered vessel.
  • You can use IDA’s Telecom Licencing System to apply for this licence online by providing the application form and supporting documents, including:
    • Radio Operator’s Certificate of Competency (if applicable)
    • Certificate of Registry or MPA Harbour Craft Licence
    • Safety Radio Certificate (if applicable)
  • Be prepared to hand over SGD 100 per ship station licence at the time of application.
  • The five-year license will take the IDA about seven working days, after successful receipt of all documents and payments, to process your application and issue the licence to you.

Ship Sanitation Control / Ship Sanitation Control Exemption Certificate

  • You had better get a Ship Sanitation Control Certificate issued by the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) Port Health Office to certify that your ship is safe and sanitary enough to transport cargo.
  • File the applications online by completing an application form and parting with a licence fee of SGD 170 or SGD 230, depending on your ship’s gross tonnage.
  • The NEA takes one working day after successful receipt of your application and payment to process your application and issue the licence.

Dangerous Goods

  • You must give prior notice of arriving vessels carrying any dangerous goods, petroleum or explosives, or if you intend to discharge or load such items in the port. Furthermore, you must acquire permission to load or discharge such material from the Port Master.
  • You must notify of arrival and application to discharge/load/transit at least 12 hours ahead of the vessel’s arrival or loading/discharging activity by providing a completed notification form to the MPA’s Hazardous Cargo Section.
  • You must ask for permission by providing a completed application form to the Port Marine Safety Department if you wish to dock, at approved wharves, conventional vessels and tankers carrying bulk liquid cargo.