Merchant Shipping (Wreck Removal) Bill – Speech by Dennis Tan Lip Fong

(Delivered in Parliament on 8 May 2017)


Through this Merchant Shipping (Wreck Removal) Bill, Singapore will, finally, be ratifying the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks of 2007.

Madam, according to the International Maritime Organization’s website, the number of abandoned wrecks, currently estimated at almost 1300 worldwide, has increased and the problems the wrecks posed to coastal states and shipping generally have become more serious.

According to the IMO, wrecks create various problems. One, the wreck may be a hazard to navigation, risking the safety of vessels and their crew. Two, the vessel or their cargo may pose environmental risks eg pollution to the waters or environment may be caused by bunker or cargo carried by the vessel. Coastal fishing may be affected. Three, the costs of marking and removing wrecks have always been an issue. Provision of compulsory insurance cover aims to deal with the issue of costs.

The Convention will provide new international rules that will ensure prompt and effective removal of wrecks located beyond the territorial seas of all signatory countries. It took about 7 years for the Convention to achieve the requisite number of ratifications which was the number of ten (10) countries from around the world triggering the entry into force conditions. This took place back on 14 April 2014. As a result, amongst the states who have ratified it earlier, the Convention entered into force on 14 April 2015.

Under the Convention, the registered owner of a ship is responsible for locating, marking and removing a wreck deemed to be a hazard in a State’s Convention area. It will also provide States with a right of direct action against insurers.

Under the Convention, ships of 300 gross tonnage and above which are registered with the ship registry of a State party to the Convention or which is entering or leaving a port belonging to a State party, will need to have insurance arrangements in conformity with the requirements of the Convention, leading to an insurance certificate or what is called, a Blue Card to be issued by insurers. Ships are also required under the Convention to obtain a certificate from a State who is party to the Convention, attesting that such insurance or the Blue Card is in place for each vessel. Such certificate must be carried on board the vessel. The good news is that the insurance cover required has been made readily available by the key P&I clubs within the International Group and this made for easier compliance for all ships and their registered owners, albeit adding to the costs of doing business.

Vessels registered in a State which is not party to the Convention but which perform voyages to countries who are parties to the Convention must obtain a certificate from a State Party.  In fact, between 2015 and the present date, as Singapore delayed in its ratification of the Convention, MPA had issued an advisory to ships registered under Singapore flag to obtain such certificates from other countries who have ratified the Convention earlier.

The Convention also includes an optional clause at Article 3(2) enabling state parties to extend the coverage of the Convention to wrecks within their territorial sea. May I clarify with the Minister whether we are doing that, especially given our relative proximity to neighbouring countries?

On the issue of penalties listed under Sections 4, 15, 23 and 31 of the Act, I am concerned whether the recommended maximum fines are sufficient to deter reporting or other offences.

Madam, we could have passed this Bill earlier, maybe two years ago when the Wreck Removal Convention came into force after 10 countries have ratified it. I would like to ask the minister whether there is any reason for the delay in implementing this Convention under our national legislation. I note from a MPA circular of 2015 that preparations were being made to legislations to implement this convention and MPA directed the Singapore-flagged ships to UK, Denmark, Germany, Marshall Islands, Liberia and Cook Islands for the issuance of the State Certificates. These countries had ratified the Convention before the Convention came into force.

I am in support of this Bill.