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Opening Remarks by Senior Minister of State for Transport, Mr Chee Hong Tat at The 11th Singapore Maritime Institute Forum

14 Oct 2021 Speeches

Ladies and gentlemen,

1.     A very good afternoon to all of you, I am happy to join you at this year’s Singapore Maritime Institute Forum.

2.     The maritime sector has experienced many challenges during this pandemic. Global supply chains have been tested multiple times, including when the Suez Canal was blocked earlier this year, and when major ports are unable to continue with their operations due to extreme weather events, or Covid-19 outbreaks. Ports worldwide continue to face congestions and freight rates have risen significantly, adding to costs, delays and uncertainties for businesses and consumers. As a global transshipment hub port, Singapore is doing our part to ease the congestion by serving as a “catch-up port” for shipping lines. We are able to do this because we have made plans, we have the infrastructure and the systems in place, and also because we have a strong tripartite partnership between government, industry and unions. This is a key strength for Maritime SG.

3.     While we put in effort to deal with these immediate challenges, we must also keep in mind that there are important longer-term issues facing the maritime sector. These include continued investments in R&D to advance our understanding of how global supply chains will shift in a post-pandemic world, how digitalisation and technology can enhance safety and raise productivity, and what are the decarbonisation measures that are effective in improving environmental sustainability.

Importance of Research and Development to Maritime

4.     Maritime is one of the oldest economic activities known to mankind, and it has a long history of innovation. The invention of the sextant allowed sailors to use stars to guide their journeys and enabled sea travel to connect civilisations in different parts of the world. The steam ship engines enabled vessels to sail without relying on wind, though we are now re-examining the potential of wind power as a form of clean energy for sea travel. Finally, containerised shipping has scaled up the movement of goods, and helped the world to become more globalised with supply chains stretching across multiple countries. Our industry is now in an era of rapid innovation, and there are lots of exciting developments that are pushing new boundaries. Very much like how seafarers of the past looked forward to discovering new lands during their voyages. We are finding widespread applications of technology in maritime – something well-established like GPS to improve navigation, and more recently, the use of drones to deliver essential supplies and conduct remote inspections of ships.

5.     Autonomous vessels and digital port operations are also active frontiers of research, and I believe advancements in Artificial Intelligence will give a further boost to these applications. Greening maritime and making it more sustainable for the environment is a priority for our industry, If we do not tackle it together, it will affect all of us. This is important and the world needs to come together to fight climate change.

6.     Singapore is an active participant and contributor to these research areas, together with our partners from around the world, including Australia, Finland and Norway. The SMI Forum is a useful platform for us to take stock of our collective efforts, and chart the way forward.

Enhancing Safety in a New Era

7.     This year’s Forum has chosen an important topic, “Maritime Safety in the 4.0 Era”. As we look back at the last 20 months since COVID-19 started, the pandemic has led to many changes to maritime operations. Contactless operations, be it for bunkering or cargo, in ship-to-ship or shore-to-ship interactions have become a well-accepted industry norm. At the same time, the industry is experiencing increased levels of digitalisation and automation in their navigational systems and operations that involve advanced human-machine interactions. New rules and regulations are required to support these innovations. This goes back to my earlier point about strong tripartite partnership, because industry cannot achieve this alone. We need the support of Government, we also need the support of workers. And workers need to receive training and skills upgrading to operate effectively in this new environment. In addition, we have to look after the physical and mental well-being of our 1.6 million seafarers globally, as they keep our supply chains going and the world economy flowing.

8.     The establishment of the Centre of Excellence in Maritime Safety, or CEMS, in 2018 by the Singapore Maritime Institute and Singapore Polytechnic has been very useful. CEMS has done a lot of good work. It conducts research on human factors and develops new systems and tools to enhance training delivery and assessment for seafarers. CEMS also works closely with the Singapore Maritime Academy, which is hosted here at Singapore Polytechnic, on improving both technical and non-technical skills training for maritime students.

9.     Earlier this afternoon, I visited CEMS, a building constructed using old containers. Containers are not just useful for transporting goods but can also be used as buildings. The CEMS team showed me their latest laboratory, the Advanced Navigation Research Simulator, or ANRS, that has been developed together with Kongsberg Digital. I am glad to launch the ANRS today. It is the first navigation research simulator in Southeast Asia, and consists of a full mission ship bridge and a vessel traffic system which simulates ship navigation and vessel traffic system operations. Earlier, when I was visiting CEMS, even though the building was not moving, the ANRS made us feel like we were moving. That was how realistic it was. Importantly, it is not just the first navigation research simulator in Southeast Asia, I believe it is also one of the first in the world to combine the use of Artificial Intelligence, together with a simulator for training purposes.

10.    The ANRS will allow CEMS and the research community to study the human factors of ship crew through the use of Artificial Intelligence. You wear a pair of glasses, which has a sensor that will be able to track the eye movement of the trainee. From that, the system can triangulate this additional set of data with the performance of the trainee who is going through different scenarios, and use that to give feedback to the trainee, in terms of areas for improvement. This will help to enhance the training and assessment of crews, and reduce the frequency of maritime incidents caused by human error. One very important point I want to highlight, is that as with many other advanced technologies, the ANRS does not replace the need for human trainers. Rather, it augments human training, where trainers can use this Artificial Intelligence technology as a tool, in addition their many years of experience. So, it is Artificial Intelligence plus actual intelligence. I think this is a powerful combination.

11.    The ANRS is equipped with state-of-the-art sensors, including the latest eye tracking sensors, to capture the behaviour of trainees in a simulator exercise. A range of different data such as video, audio, and eye movements will be collected and analysed to assess the trainee’s level of competency. I am confident that our researchers, industry players and seafarers will benefit from the use of ANRS as a training tool, and we will further enhance its capabilities and applications over time. As with AI, when more people use it, it will collect more data, and it becomes better.

12.    When we are able to safely resume travel with more countries around the world, the simulator can also be part of the training that we provide to our partners and seafarers from the region.

SMI’s Role in Maritime Singapore

13.    We are also gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of SMI. The SMI was formed in 2011 to support Singapore’s growth beyond its core maritime businesses of hub port and international maritime centre by strengthening our maritime research capabilities. In the last ten years, SMI has established itself as a key node for maritime R&D, directing and organising pioneering research with practical applications.

14.    SMI has supported over 110 R&D projects, including research activities by the Centres of Excellence. It has also trained over 300 research scientists and engineers, delivered 9 patents, and deployed and licensed 6 technologies to local firms. Our efforts are also recognized internationally. In the 2019 biannual report of the “The Leading Maritime Capitals in the World” published by Menon Economics, Singapore ranked top in the category of “leading maritime R&D and educational centres of the world” and second in “environmentally sustainable technologies and solutions for the oceans”.

15.    SMI has developed two maritime R&D roadmaps that extend up to 2030, and set up four thematic centres of excellence at our institutes of higher learning. First, the Centre for Next Generation Ports at the National University of Singapore, the second is the Maritime Energy and Sustainable Development Centre at Nanyang Technological University. Third, CEMS here at Singapore Polytechnic, and last by not least, the Autonomous & Remotely Operated Vessels Centre of Excellence at the Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine Singapore.

16.    The four Centres of Excellence are important in focusing an concentrating research efforts and attention to create new solutions for Singapore, so that we can overcome our constraints and position ourselves for future growth.

17.    We also need to constantly sharpen our competitive edge through innovation and continuous improvement. It is like rowing a boat against the currents, if we don’t keep rowing and moving forward, we will be swept back by the rapid waters.

18.    The research directed by SMI has been grounded in their practicality and relevance for the industry. In the last five years, SMI’s projects have been deployed by local firms and received international recognition. Vessel training and familiarisation is usually conducted onboard vessels. CEMS has developed a 360-editor tool to create walkthrough videos of vessels to enhance pre-boarding familiarisation training. A Singapore-based shipping company has undergone training in late February this year and has subsequently licensed the software tool from CEMS.

19.    Another example is the publication of the “Alternative Fuel for International Shipping” by the Centre of Excellence for Maritime Energy and Sustainable Development. The report aids maritime companies in understanding the various types of alternative energy sources and spells out the timeframe for their adoption in a realistic manner. Our researchers were invited to present the report at the International Maritime Organization Symposium on alternative low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels in February this year.

Continued Funding Support

20.    SMI has certainly done well in the last ten years. It will build on its good work and continue to play a key role to set the R&D direction for Maritime Singapore. I am happy to announce that the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore will allocate S$80 million to SMI for the next 5 years to support its initiatives.

21.    With this funding, SMI can continue to pursue its mission to grow Singapore as a leading global maritime research centre of excellence focusing on Next Generation Port, Smart Shipping, and Green Technologies. Mr Tan Cheng Peng, Executive Director of SMI, had shared with me this is SMI’s ambition – we can add a global maritime research centre to a world-class hub port and an international maritime centre.

22.    This funding will also allow SMI to grow our talent pool of maritime research scientists and engineers in Singapore, and this includes developing a pipeline of local talents from within, and also attracting overseas researchers to come to Singapore to complement our local workforce and to expand our research capabilities and networks. This is very important. We need that mix of both local and international research talent to complement each other, so that we can get the best outcomes. It is also very important that we adopt the same open and connected approach in finding partners to work together with.


23.    This is why I want to end my remarks by touching on the importance of collaborations with like-minded partners in Singapore and beyond our shores.

24.    CEMS, SMI and MPA will be announcing four collaborations with our overseas partners today. Each of the four collaborations marks the beginning of a journey between like-minded partners. Together, the four collaborations signal the depth and strength of our maritime R&D ecosystem. By working together with port operators, ship builders, engine makers and other maritime research centres from around the world, we increase our chances of success by widening our networks, by sharing our ideas and resources, and tapping on one another’s strengths and capabilities.

25.    Thank you very much and I wish all of you a fruitful forum this afternoon.