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Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration: Upping its game

Singapore, a leading maritime capital in the world, is upping its efforts to improve its status as a global maritime arbitration center.

Data from the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore shows the city-state’s maritime ecosystem comprises over 5,000 establishments employing more than 170,000 people. It contributes about 7% to the republic’s gross domestic product.

Singapore was rated as the top maritime capital in the Leading Maritime Capitals of the World 2019 report by Menon. In the report, Singapore outperformed other cities in categories of shipping centers, ports and logistics, attractiveness and competitivess, but it only ranked fifth in the category of finance and law.

Punit Oza, a former Torvald Klaveness senior executive, was appointed as executive director of the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA) from March 1 this year, after serving over 25 years in the dry bulk shipping sector.
“As I complete 100 days in the job today, I feel it has been a great learning experience for me so far,” Oza says.

Oza says SCMA has gained significant traction since its establishment in 2009, however its activity has plateaued as maritime Singapore has been growing consistently and his key priority has been to revitalise SCMA and its value propositions.

SCMA has been making efforts in three major strategic areas. The first is to enhance the visibility and awareness of SCMA among the maritime community.

The second is to ensure a greater collaboration with the rest of the stakeholders in maritime Singapore and beyond and the last is to enhance the value of SCMA for its users and members.

“By upgrading and incorporating technology and commercial focus, we feel that we can make the arbitration simpler and dynamic for its users. Similarly, by enhancing knowledge-sharing through active engagement, we can create value for the members,” Oza adds.

Oza reckons Singapore has several core strengths for it to grow its status as a global maritime arbitration center including user-friendly arbitration laws, great support from judiciary, open and corruption-free regime upholding party autonomy as well as a rich talent pool of legal and commercial professionals and specific tax incentives for the professionals.

“When such a vibrant eco-system exists – a confluence of maritime, trading, legal & related professionals in a compact environment – the benefits are obvious but quite often taken for granted, especially by its users. Every maritime hub has benefitted from its own maritime dispute resolution centre and Singapore is no exception,” Oza maintains, adding that

SCMA’s vision is to become the leading arbitration centre in Asia for maritime-related disputes.
According to Oza, SCMA offers a clear choice to the users of international arbitration in Singapore as being the only centre offering an un-administered or ad-hoc model of arbitration. This model, which is extremely suited to maritime disputes, upholds party autonomy, with minimal intervention in the actual arbitration process and thus keeps it flexible and cost-effective.

Oza believes the success of SCMA is dependent on the inclusive participation of all the stakeholders including government, maritime, trading, legal and ancillary companies and the Singapore government and MPA can identify and connect SCMA with relevant stakeholders.

However, much more efforts should be paid to address the challenges during the development of SCMA, Oza reckons.

“The major challenge exists in terms of lack of awareness of SCMA and its value for its users. The message needs to be clear, concise, and complete and targeted not just to the traditional legal professionals but to the entire eco-system,” Oza says, and he also sees challenges exist in terms of keeping the arbitration rules and process simple and dynamic, and a lack of sense of ownership from its members.

“We have a diverse membership base, who are all experts in their own areas of work, and it is up to SCMA to create an environment where the members feel that they own the centre and also benefit collectively from being a part of it,” Oza says.

Amid the current lockdowns in most countries, Oza has seen the dispute resolution, unless a major issue, has been put on the back burner and he expects the backlog of cases that may come in after the lockdown eases might be quite substantial, including the cases which have come up during or because of Covid-19.

“I am quite clear that SCMA can and should play a key role in resolving relevant maritime disputes in the most commercially focused, independent, neutral and cost-effective manner. Achieving this is our top most priority,” Oza concludes.

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