Maritime arbitration body in S'pore aims to be Asia's go-to venue for shipping users

SCMA registered 43 case references in 2020 involving a total claim sum of US$49.37 million (S$65.84 million), with over half the disputants coming from Asia.
SCMA registered 43 case references in 2020 involving a total claim sum of US$49.37 million (S$65.84 million), with over half the disputants coming from Asia.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Despite a Covid-challenged year, the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA) took on a heavier caseload last year, and is forging ahead to be the go-to destination for maritime and trade users based in Asia.

It was a year when hearings went digital and new linkages were forged, said the chairman of SCMA, Justice Chao Hick Tin.

"With Singapore growing into a leading maritime and arbitration centre, its key users have also grown across the region. SCMA's new vision - to become the leading maritime arbitration centre in Asia - reflects this new reality," added Justice Chao in SCMA's 2020 Annual Review released last week.

Noting SCMA's continued momentum, which saw a 5 per cent rise in the cases handled amid the coronavirus pandemic, Justice Chao said: "SCMA has always prided itself as a unique service provider to the maritime and trade ecosystem."

SCMA is a specialist arbitration institution for the resolution of maritime and international trade disputes. It offers the maritime and international trade communities a neutral, cost-effective and flexible framework to resolve their disputes fairly and expeditiously.

Last year, it registered 43 case references involving a total claim sum of US$49.37 million (S$65.84 million), with over half the disputants coming from Asia, including Singapore.

Its outreach activities for the year included presentations, webinars and collaborations that were mostly virtual due to Covid-19 rules.

SCMA also, for the first time, made a visible presence at the prestigious International Congress of Maritime Arbitrators XXI, held in Brazil early last year, where it was represented by SCMA vice-chair Corina Song.

It also strengthened its institutional bonds last year when it inked a memorandum of understanding with the Guangzhou Arbitration Commission to help promote arbitration across both centres, including enabling them to tap arbitrators on each other's panels.

Another MOU with the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers (Singapore Branch) provides for holding regular joint events and cross-representation across the bodies.

The latest agreement was inked last week between SCMA and Baltic Exchange Asia by Justice Chao and Ms Lu Su Ling, head of Baltic Exchange Asia.

Said SCMA executive director Punit Oza: "As part of the maritime ecosystem in Singapore, both SCMA and Baltic Exchange Asia share similar goals in promoting and furthering their causes in the maritime and shipping industry. Through this agreement, both the organisations wish to provide a framework to achieve a sustainable, long-term relationship."

Last July, Singapore retained its top spot as the international shipping centre for the seventh year running in the 2020 Xinhua-Baltic International Shipping Centre Development Index. This index ranks the performance of the world's largest cities that offer port and shipping business services.

Industry expert Ian Teo, managing director of law firm Helmsman LLC, said: "SCMA's focus on the Asean, Chinese and Indian markets is strategically sound, given the convenience and cultural advantages, and continuing rapid growth of these markets.

"However, the wider market - particularly in Europe and the US - is and will remain important, and is more challenging."