Singapore's prime minister has pledged to prosecute individuals involved with an overnight riot in the city-state, which left at least 18 people injured.

Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday that authorities would "spare no effort to identify the culprits and deal with them with the full force of the law", after what was described as Singapore's worst rioting in more than 40 years.

Late on Sunday, about 400 South Asian migrant workers, angered by a road accident, battled police and set vehicles ablaze.

A police statement said the disturbance started in the congested Little India district when a 33-year-old Indian man was killed after being hit by a private bus driven by a Singaporean.

Ten policemen, four civil defence staff and the bus driver and conductor were among the injured, but none were seriously hurt, officials said.

Whatever events may have sparked the rioting, there is no excuse for such destructive behavior.

Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister

The situation was brought under control after the elite Special Operations Command and Gurkhas working for the police arrived on the scene.

Police arrested 27 South Asians, some of whom hurled bottles and other projectiles at authorities who tried to calm the scene, said police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee.

Channel News Asia showed images of burning vehicles, a police car flipped on its side and people attacking the windshield of a bus with sticks and garbage bins.

"Whatever events may have sparked the rioting, there is no excuse for such violent, destructive, and criminal behaviour," Lee wrote in a statement on his Facebook page.

The violence prompted debate among Singaporeans on social media about issues of overcrowding and the increase of migrant workers hired for Singapore's construction sector and menial jobs.

Little India is an area popular among Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Nepali expatriates. It has scores of restaurants, grocery shops and a mall selling food and other items for people from those countries.

On Sundays, the area is especially crowded with South Asian workers.

Singapore is an orderly and modern city-state known for strict punishments and generally law-abiding citizens.

Anyone who is found to be armed in a riot or using objects as weapons that can cause death could face up to 10 years in jail, with the possibility of caning, a punishment reserved for serious crimes.

Source: Agencies