When the Baltic and International Maritime Council’s (“BIMCO”) Documentary Committee approved the SALEFORM 2012 in November 2011, London was again specified as the default arbitration venue, as was the case for earlier editions this ship sale and purchase form.

Shipping lawyers and arbitrators noted that this appears to fly in the face of ship buying trends and the rising popularity of Singapore as an arbitration centre. Asian ship buying is on the increase, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia where domestic and logistics liners take advantage of low secondhand prices to acquire ships to add tonnage on cabotage protected intra-country sea routes. Additionally, the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (“SCMA”), with its scale fees, administered arbitration and new summary procedures, is increasingly preferred by Asian maritime parties. Singapore’s arbitration business is also supported by the Singapore Ship Sale Form, which selects Singapore as the default venue for arbitration.

Recognising Asia’s increasing influence, the Documentary Committee announced a change of attitude at the Singapore Maritime Week, held in April 2012. According to BIMCO deputy secretary general Søren Larsen, although London currently accounts for 70% of global cases, Singapore will be included as an arbitration venue in the electronic version of BIMCO contracts, placing Singapore alongside London and New York as arbitration venues.

Following this announcement, an Arbitration Working Group (“ABW”) will be constituted to consider the Singapore arbitration clause to be incorporated into the BIMCO Standard Dispute Resolution Clause. Singapore has already sent a draft of the clause which applies SCMA’s rules. If the ABW is satisfied, it will be fast tracked for Documentary Committee approval. The Singapore wording may be fully incorporated in the BIMCO clause as early as September 2012.

While London will remain the default arbitration if parties do not express their choice on the forms, this development is a breakthrough for Singapore. SCMA executive director Lee Wai Pong has described it as “a seminal moment, reflecting just how far Maritime Singapore has come, that we are on the fringes of being accepted internationally in contracts”. On BIMCO’s part, this means that key shipping centres in Europe, the Americas and Asia will now be represented in its forms.