Lloyd's Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly


Paul Myburgh*

The Eco Spark
It has famously been said that “ships are but boards”.1 However, the issue of whether something is a ship is not always straightforward, especially when it comes to atypical vessels, platforms, structures or objects, not to mention novel uses or purposes or structural modifications. The Singapore High Court recently grappled with this issue in The Eco Spark.2
The facts were simple. The claimant, a Singapore shipbuilder, agreed to convert a steel barge, which the defendant had purchased in Indonesia, into a “Special Service Floating Fish Farm”, to be fixed at a farm site in Serangoon Harbour, within Singapore territorial waters. The conversion agreement contained a Singapore arbitration clause. Contractual disputes arose between the parties. The claimant had Eco Spark arrested on 14 March 2023.3 The defendant applied to strike out the claimant’s admiralty claim in rem, set aside the warrant of arrest, release Eco Spark, and award damages for wrongful arrest, on the basis that it was no longer a ship at the time of arrest.4
Although there is a decent body of case law and academic literature on the definition of ships in various contexts,5 this is apparently the first time that the issue has arisen in Singapore in the context of the definition of a “ship” for the purposes of admiralty jurisdiction, which “includes any description of vessel used in navigation”.6 After a

* Professor, Auckland University of Technology Law School; Adjunct Research Professor, Centre for Maritime Law, National University of Singapore.
1. W Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 3, 22.
2. Vallianz Shipbuilding & Engineering Pte Ltd v Owner of the vessel Eco Spark (The Eco Spark) [2023] SGHC 353 (S Mohan J).
3. The claim was brought under s.3(1)(m) of the High Court (Admiralty Jurisdiction) Act 1961 (“HCAJA”) “in respect of the construction, repair or equipment of a ship”. The Court’s in rem jurisdiction over the “ship” was invoked pursuant to HCAJA, s.4(4): Eco Spark, [13]. The UK equivalents are ss 20(2)(n) and 21(4) of the Senior Courts Act 1981.
4. Eco Spark, [6–19].
6. HCAJA, s.2. “Vessel” is in turn defined in the Singapore Interpretation Act 1965, s.2 as including “floating craft of every description”. Cf the UK Senior Courts Act 1981, s.24(1). The Court did not refer to, or seek contextual assistance from, the more exhaustive definition in the Singapore Merchant Shipping Act 1995, s.2:
“‘ship’ means any kind of vessel used in navigation by water, however propelled or moved and includes—
(a) a barge, lighter or other floating vessel;
(b) an air-cushion vehicle, or other similar craft, used wholly or primarily in navigation by water; and
(c) an off-shore industry mobile unit;”
Cf the UK Merchant Shipping Act 1995, s.313(1).


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