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Opening Address by Senior Minister of State for Transport and Foreign Affairs, Mr Chee Hong Tat, at the International Safety at Sea Webinar Series 2020

30 Nov 2020 Speeches

Ladies and gentlemen,
1.     Good afternoon. I am happy to join you at the opening session of the International Safety at Sea Webinar Series 2020.
Maritime safety is a priority for Maritime Singapore
2.     Maritime safety remains a priority for Singapore during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
a.     Safety is closely linked to the well-being of our maritime workforce, both seafarers and shore-based personnel.
b.     Safety is crucial to global trade and supply chains, to keep essential items like food and medical supplies flowing.
c.     And safety is important for protecting the environment, to lower the risk of accidents and pollution. 
3.     The annual International Safety at Sea event is a good platform to gather the maritime community to discuss these pertinent issues.
4.     Today, I would like to focus on two issues in my speech: how the tripartite partners in Singapore have worked together to facilitate crew change; and how do we use technology to enhance maritime safety. 
Crew change at the heart of maritime safety
5.     First, on crew change. Seafarers are at the heart of the maritime industry.
a.     The border and travel restrictions due to COVID-19 have led to hundreds of thousands of seafarers being stranded at sea.
b.     Many have worked beyond their contractual obligations, with some stuck onboard for more than one year. They could not come onshore or return home to their families.
c.     This has led to crew fatigue and affected their mental health, compromising navigational safety. 
d.     It can also lead to a humanitarian crisis if we do not take steps to address the problem. 
6.     Singapore will continue to do our part to facilitate crew change safely. It is the right thing to do and we will do it right. 
a.     We work very closely with industry associations, unions, maritime companies and international organisations to implement a safe crew change protocol. 
b.     In June this year, an industry taskforce led by the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA), in partnership with Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union (SMOU) published the Singapore Crew Change Guidebook, which details the protocol we use in Singapore. The Guidebook was circulated to Member States of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as reference.
c.     More recently in September, we established a Crew Facilitation Centre (CFC) at Tanjong Pagar Terminal to safely house crew signing on to ships at our port for up to 72 hours before they board their ships.
7.     I am pleased to announce we will be moving into Phase 2 of our Crew Facilitation Centre, which will see enhancements in two areas.
a.     First, the Crew Facilitation Centre will be a Centre of Excellence for Crew Change Protocols. We will test-bed emerging technologies that support safer crew change procedures, and publish these improved procedures, so that others can learn from our experiences and build on them.
b.     Second, the Singapore Shipping Tripartite Alliance Resilience (SG-STAR) Fund Taskforce will further increase efforts and funding to audit and accredit medical and holding facilities at crew source nations. MPA will also be reaching out to our fellow members of the Port Authorities Roundtable (PAR) to encourage them to join these efforts. This will help ensure that consistent safety standards for crew change are met across the various ports, increasing the confidence of countries to conduct crew change.
8.     As a maritime nation, Singapore will not let up in our crew change efforts. It is crucial to ensure the health and well-being of our seafarers. Doing so will translate to fewer marine incidents and increase safety in our waters. 
a.     Since March, we have facilitated crew change for more than 60,000 crew of different nationalities from more than 3,500 ships. On average, we are conducting some 500 to 600 sign-ons or sign-offs per day. We are prepared to handle more crew change if the number of applications increases. Before COVID-19, we used to handle around 800 crew changes per day. 
b.     We could not have achieved these results without our unions, industry associations, international organisations, and maritime companies. I thank our partners for their strong support and collaboration.
c.     It is a continuous conversation of reviewing current processes, suggesting improvements, and translating these to operational procedures on the ground.
Dealing with future challenges through collaboration
9.     This same collaborative approach across sectors and borders is key if we want to transform the maritime sector to deal with the challenges ahead. 
10.    A good example is GeoSpace-Sea, a national marine coastal data repository spearheaded by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. 
11.    Together with 12 other government agencies and institutes of higher learning, the repository brings together marine coastal data and information from different disciplines, creating the first-ever comprehensive picture of Singapore’s sea space. 
12.    This is crucial to maritime safety as it would effectively reduce marine incidents. Data from the repository can be used to support sea space planning, given the large number of vessels that use our limited sea space. It will also help our port operations as we adapt to the effects of climate change. 
a.     I am happy to share that GeoSpace-Sea is now accessible to all participating government agencies.
b.     By the third quarter of next year, after the government agencies have further tested the system, GeoSpace-Sea will be available to the public, including users from the industry, academia and research institutions. They can use the system for research and to develop different end-user applications. 
c.     Industry players can tap on the information to develop improved safety and operational protocols for our waters. 
d.     For example, shipping companies can make use of environment data on currents and winds to plan journeys for more efficient sailings and planning of arrival times. 
e.     Response operations to oil spills in our waters can also be further enhanced, by using GeoSpace-Sea. We use the data to improve prediction models to forecast the spread of an oil spill. 
13.    These are examples of how collaboration and digitalisation can enable multi-pronged solutions to tackle complex problems and future challenges.
14.    As the busiest transhipment hub port in the world, maritime safety will always be a priority for Maritime Singapore. 
a.     Safety is a key ingredient of our DNA. It is also a never-ending marathon which we must keep emphasising and improving. 
b.     We will continue to encourage collaboration between stakeholders within and outside of the maritime sector to develop innovative and practical solutions. Solutions that we can share with the rest of the world. 
c.     I wish everyone good health and may you have many fruitful discussions over the next two days. Thank you.