Authorities, academic institutions and business are coming together to promote innovation and maintain Singapore's position as a world leader in maritime
This year marks the bicentenary of Sir Stamford Raffles’ landing at Singapore in 28 January 1819. The deep natural harbour and location on one of the world’s key trade routes between India and China made it an ideal site for establishing a trade port. 200 years on, the city-state continues to thrive and build on its well-earned reputation as one of the most important maritime centres in the world – a trend that looks set to continue in 2019 and on into the future.
A joint study by Baltic Exchange and Xinhua released in July 2018, ranked Singapore for the fourth year running as the world’s top shipping centre, beating cities such as Hong Kong, London, Shanghai, Rotterdam and Dubai for the top spot. In September 2018, DNV GL and Menon Economics released their report Leading Maritime Nations of the World, where Singapore ranked ninth. This might seem a slight step down from Singapore’s position in the DNV GL-Menon report Leading Maritime Capitals of the World from 2017, but as this year’s report itself notes, Singapore is a city-state, while the nations it is competing against often have several maritime centres and include economic superpowers such as the US and China.
The Maritime Nations report also notes that it does not include the 'Attractiveness and Competitiveness' indicator used in the Maritime Capitals report, adding “If we had not excluded it, Singapore would have ranked higher.” Looking at the criteria the Maritime Nations report does include, Singapore ranked third overall for ports and logistics and sixth overall for shipping. An EY report in May 2018 focusing on Greece’s maritime industry found that more than half of Greek shipowners would consider moving their shipmanagement services overseas, with Singapore identified as a likely destination alongside London and Dubai. Three out of four respondents in EY’s report picked Singapore as likely to be the world’s leading maritime centre within the next decade.
In 2018, the Port of Singapore either maintained or increased on 2017’s levels of activity. MPA’s own statistics showed container throughput increased by 8.7% year-on-year from 33.7M TEU to 36.6M TEU, while total cargo throughput grew slightly from 627.7M tonnes to 630M tonnes. Total tonnage under the Singapore Registry of Ships climbed from 88.8M gross tonnes to 90.9M gross tonnes. Tonnage of vessels arrived and bunker sales remained stable.
A key part of this success is Singapore’s maritime cluster. A cluster is defined by Professor Michael Porter as “a geographically proximate group of interconnected companies and associated institutions in a particular field, linked by commonalities and complementarities,” and as a global maritime hub Singapore has, unsurprisingly, built up a very strong maritime cluster with significant assistance from the government.
As a means of facilitating this development, MPA has established a Maritime Cluster Fund (MCF) to support industry’s manpower and business development efforts. There are three key areas of MCF: The MCF Manpower Development, which supports maritime companies to develop manpower, training initiatives and capabilities; the MCF-Business Development, which supports expenses incurred in setting up new maritime operations or expanding into new lines of business in Singapore, as well as internationalisation efforts by maritime companies; and the MCF Productivity, which supports initiatives aimed at boosting productivity by the maritime sector. In March 2018, it was announced MPA would put a further S$100M (US$74M) into the MCF to assist Singapore’s push to become a hub of technological expertise in digitalisation and automation.
The Singaporean Government has also issued Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) across 23 sectors in six clusters. Two of these are especially relevant to maritime: Marine & Offshore, under the Manufacturing cluster, and Sea Transport, under the Trade & Connectivity cluster.
Under the Sea Transport ITM, overseen by MPA, Singapore seeks value-added growth of S$4.5Bn by 2025 and to create more than 5,000 jobs. The map is spread across three sectors: Connectivity, seeking to grow the maritime cluster and port, strengthen ties with other industries and maritime clusters, and transform local companies into global businesses; Innovation, seeking to implement automation, intelligent systems and digital technologies, digitalisation of the port community, and establishing an innovation ecosystem encouraging startups and local technology companies; and Talent, growing a future workforce, establishing multiple pathways to maritime careers, and strengthening the quality of maritime training and education.
Meanwhile, the Marine & Offshore Engineering ITM, overseen by the Economic Development Board, is targeting value-added growth of S$5.8Bn and creating more than 1,500 new jobs through four key areas. These are preparing for the upturn by boosting adoption of robotics and automation, and innovating and harnessing digitalisation; pursuing new growth by diversifying into adjacent areas such as LNG and renewables, fostering collaborations between large enterprise and SMEs and accessing new markets through mergers, acquisitions and partnerships; boosting ties between the industry, associations and unions; and equipping Singaporeans with relevant skills through establishing career and skills pathways, reskilling programmes and a talent pipeline for future jobs in ‘smart’ products and services.
Singapore is also positioning itself to handle IMO’s sulphur cap coming into force on 1 January 2020.
MPA’s chief executive Andrew Tan announced a ban on using open-loop scrubbers in the port on 30 November 2018.
“To protect the marine environment and ensure the port waters are clean, the discharge of washwater from open-loop exhaust gas scrubbers in Singapore port waters will be prohibited,” Mr Tan said in a speech to the Singapore Registry of Ships forum.
Vessels fitted with open-loop scrubbers will be required to use compliant fuels in Singapore port waters. Ships fitted with hybrid scrubbers will be required to switch to the closed-loop mode of operation, he said.
“Singapore, as a party to Marpol Annex VI, will be providing reception facilities for the collection of residues generated from the operation of scrubbers,” he added.
In his speech, Mr Tan also sought to allay fears that 2020 sulphur cap compliant fuels would not be readily available.
“As a major bunkering hub, we are working closely with our bunker suppliers to ensure that there will be an adequate supply of compliant fuel oil in Singapore well in advance of 2020. We will produce a list of suppliers that are able to supply compliant fuel by the middle of next year,” he said.
As the city looks back on 200 years and ahead to the future, one thing is certain – Singapore’s maritime cluster will continue to play a vital part in helping it continue to grow and adapt.
Speaking at the Singapore Maritime Foundation New Year cocktail reception in January, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health Dr Lam Pin Min said “Let us remember how we have come this far and reflect on the lessons and wisdom from our forefathers.
“One key ingredient has been our ability to forge a strong partnership between industry and the government.
“This ability to pull together our resources, networks, and know-how, to move in the same direction, is a unique strength we have, and something we should work hard to preserve.”