Liens on sub-freights. Where do they need to be registered as a charge?

The Singapore High Court decision in Duncan, Cameron Lindsay v. Diablo Fortune Inc  [2017] SGHC 172 provides a cautionary tale for shipowners about the need to register a lien on sub freights as a charge, and where this should be done.

The shipowners let their vessel on bareboat charter to a company incorporated in Singapore, under which they were given a lien on all cargoes, sub-hires and sub-freights belonging or due to the charterers or any sub-charterers and any bill of lading freight for all claims under the charter. Following default in payment by the charterer, the owners notice of lien to a sub charterer which employed the vessel in a pooling arrangement. The bareboat charter was subject to English law and provided for London arbitration.

The charterer’s liquidator contended that the lien was void against them for want of registration under s.131(1) of the Singapore Companies Act. The shipowners contended that as the charter was subject to English law, it was the UK Companies Act 2006 that applied to the registration of charges and whose provisions applied only to companies incorporated in England, Wales, or Scotland, but not to a company incorporated abroad. The Singapore High Court held that as the company was incorporated in Singapore, the requirements of s 131 of the Singapore Companies Act applied regardless of the law governing the creation of the charge or the location of the property.

A distinction needed to be made between the law governing the initial validity and/or creation of the security interest and the law governing the priority of such interests and the distribution of assets in the insolvency of the company. The latter issues are resolved by the law of the state in which the insolvency proceedings are commenced. The invalidity of a charge as against a liquidator due to non-registration is one such issue.

The court then considered whether the lien was a charge within the meaning of s131 and followed the English authorities cited by the Liquidator to the effect that a lien on sub freights give rise to an equitable assignment by way of charge and may be void for want of registration against a liquidator and creditors of the company. The lien on sub freights possessed the characteristics of a floating charge and amounted to a charge on a book debt under s131.

Shipowners, therefore, need to be aware of the insolvency law of their time charterer’s place of incorporation and its law regarding registration of charges.

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