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Restrictions & Sanctions

Straits of Malacca and Singapore: Risks of severe legal actions against ships

Legal risks associated with operations in Straits of Malacca and Singapore

The Straits of Malacca and Singapore and associated waters are sometimes characterised by overlapping jurisdictions (Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia) and rigorous enforcement by those jurisdictions of the plethora of national regulations governing the conduct of operations in the area.

For example, it has come to our notice that ships in Indonesian territorial waters, which have been drifting, anchored outside designated anchorages, or have been conducting ship to ship (STS) operations either at anchor or underway have been intercepted by Indonesian authorities and severely sanctioned (ships detained, seafarers arrested and/or fined).

Enforcement sanctions are sometimes perceived by shipowners as excessive and in certain cases feel almost like blackmailing. Regardless, coastal states are entitled to regulate maritime activities in their territorial waters and enforce the law. Ships’ rights are limited to the conduct of innocent passage and/or transit passage, which in general terms mean that the transit shall be conducted continuously and expeditiously without stopping or anchoring unless safe navigation warrants such stopping/anchoring or when required by force majeure or by distress.

Therefore, it is suggested that ships consider the following advice before engaging in any activities involving slowing down, stopping / drifting, anchoring, STS or interfacing with small crafts for transfer of persons /goods either underway or while at anchor.

Advice regarding operations in Straits of Malacca and Singapore and associated waters

When transiting through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore and associated waters, members are advised as follows (the detailed provisions can be found in the legal references):

  1. If possible, avoid operations other than innocent passage and transit passage.
  2. Double check in whose waters (Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia) the activity is planned for. Avoid areas of overlapping jurisdiction.
  3. Make sure to have enough wiggle room for the ship e.g. to drift without infringing on other territorial waters. In case this cannot be avoided, permissions from the other country should also be obtained.
  4. Notify and obtain permission from the appropriate authorities where any operation such as anchoring, storing, crew change, major ship maintenance or any kind of STS transfer is going to be conducted.
  5. Ships should only anchor in the anchorages designated for the purpose by the respective country unless prior permission has been obtained in anchoring outside these anchorages.
  6. Ship should keep their Automatic Identification System (AIS) operational throughout the transit. If a compelling need arises to switch off the AIS, the coastal states in the region should informed immediately.

Legal references


  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), especially articles 18, 19, 37-44.
  • The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). See Chapter V Reg 19 regarding AIS.
  • IMO Resolution A.1106(29), 2 December 2015 (Revised Guidelines For The Onboard Use Of Shipborne Automatic Identification System, AIS).


  • Port Marine Circular No. 03/2019 (Reporting Procedures for Ships Transiting Western Singapore Port Limits)
  • Port Marine Circular No. 06/2019 (Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore Port Limits – Suspension)
  • Port Marine Circular No. 08/2019 (Prohibited Anchoring Outside Designated Anchorages)
  • Port Marine Notice No. 65/2002 (Guidelines For The Onboard Operational Use Of AIS)


  • Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952 (Section 491B)
  • Malaysia Shipping Notice MSN 5/2014 (Notification to the Director of Marine Of Activity Engaged By A Ship In Malaysian Waters).


  • Law number 17 of 2008


Coronavirus - Singapore issues dispensations to assist shipowners

To assist the owners of Singapore-registered ships in facing challenges with regard to compliance of their statutory obligations required under the various legislative instruments during this coronavirus outbreak, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore ( MPA) has now issued a shipping circular.  This circular advises on how dispensations can be obtained under MPA for a list of non-exhaustive scenarios. Examples listed in the circular include dispensation for extension of sea service beyond contract period or beyond qualification revalidation deadline or mandatory surveys, audits and expiry of statutory certificates. 

Additional information


Ships increasingly risk legal actions in Malacca and Singapore region

BIMCO has noticed that some ships engaging in activities in Indonesia territorial waters have been intercepted by Indonesian authorities and sanctioned by means of detention, arrests and/or immigration sanctions on seafarers.

To assist members, BIMCO has gathered information in this regard and members are advised to take precaution while operating in this area. Full text of information and advice can be found here.


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