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Remarks by Senior Minister of State for Transport, Mr Chee Hong Tat, at the Virtual Launch of the Smart Port Challenge (SPC) 2021

18 Jun 2021 Speeches

Strengthening our Marinetech Ecosystem

Professor Freddy Boey, Deputy President (Innovation and Enterprise), NUS

Ladies and gentlemen, 

1.     Good afternoon.  Thank you for attending the virtual launch of the Smart Port Challenge 2021.

Innovation to position Maritime Singapore for future growth

2.     Maritime Singapore has remained resilient during the pandemic.  We have responded well to the driving forces shaping the industry: disruption to global supply chains, digitalisation and decarbonisation.   

a.     The Port of Singapore continues to be a reliable and efficient port. 

i.     In 2020, amidst overseas port closures, shipping delays and container shortfalls, the container throughput at our port fell slightly, by 0.9%. 

ii.    But we have regained the momentum since the second half of last year, and it has continued this year.  Container throughput from January to May 2021 grew by 4.6% compared to the same period in 2020, and increased by 3.9% compared to the same period in 2019, before the pandemic.  

iii.   I am encouraged by the positive development, and would like to thank our workers, companies and partners for their resilience and working well together to achieve this outcome.  Neither COVID-19 nor the Suez Canal incident earlier this year prevented us from growing our port operations.  

b.     Our international maritime centre offers ship owners and operators a one-stop marketplace for a variety of maritime services.

i.     In 2020, amidst the pandemic, we attracted 11 new shipping groups to Singapore, and worked with eight maritime companies to expand their operations here.

ii.    The investment pipeline remains healthy.  From January to May 2021, five maritime companies have expanded or established new operations in Singapore under the support of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

c.     This strong performance is testament to the trust that maritime companies place in Singapore as a global hub port and international maritime centre. 

3.     But we must not rest on our laurels.  We should ride on this momentum to build even stronger capabilities and position ourselves to grow further and be ready for the future. 

a.     At the Committee of Supply earlier this year, I laid out our vision to create a 3-I Maritime Singapore ecosystem, one which is integrated, innovative and inclusive.  

b.     We are making progress on all three fronts.  Today, I will focus on innovation in the area of maritime technology or Marinetech for short. 

i.     During the pandemic, we have leveraged technology to implement contactless cargo and bunkering operations, track cargo, and provide tele-medicine services for seafarers. 

ii.    We can expect demand for such technological solutions to continue increasing, including after the pandemic.

The Smart Port Challenge and our Marinetech ecosystem

4.     This is the fifth year that MPA and NUS Enterprise are organising the Smart Port Challenge. 

a.     By bringing together problem statements and solutions for the maritime sector, it has become a key pillar of our efforts to develop a strong Marinetech sector in Singapore. 

b.     Marinetech is a fast-growing area with a promising future.  Singapore is well-placed to develop this sector as we have strengths in both maritime and technology.  

c.     Successful Marinetech solutions that are developed and piloted here can be scaled up and exported overseas. 

5.     Today, I am pleased to launch a total of 17 challenge statements for the Smart Port Challenge 2021.

a.     These challenge statements cover top-of-the-mind concerns in the industry – from port operations, shipping, sustainability to crew safety and supply chain management. 

b.     Automation and remote operations feature strongly in this year’s challenge statements, including automated cleaning of vessels, cargo identification, monitoring of emissions from cargo and ballast tanks, and tracking of mental and physical well-being of crew. 

c.     These technologies are key to a safer and more productive maritime sector of the future. 

6.     Our Smart Port Challenge alumni have taken their solutions further.  They have made good use of the support provided by the PIER71 platform, and done well. 

a.     For example, seven start-ups from last year’s Smart Port Challenge have been awarded grant funding to develop pilot projects with their industry partners.  This is the next step to developing solutions at scale.

i.     They will be applying innovative solutions in areas such as remote vessel inspection and ensuring safety and efficiency in container terminal operations. 

ii.    One of these companies is BeeX, which was the winning team last year.  I remember the excellent presentation by Ms Grace Chia, CEO of BeeX, and was delighted to present Grace and her team-mates with the award.  

iii.   BeeX specialises in autonomous underwater robots to inspect piers and vessels, using technology developed together with the Advanced Robotics Centre at NUS.  This can be cheaper, safer and more efficient than using divers.  

iv.    BeeX is now exploring expanding their use case to inspect infrastructure at floating solar farms.  I am confident that their technology can be applied to many other areas, both in Singapore and overseas.

b.     Smart Port Challenge alumni are also attracting funding and expanding solutions for the global market.

i.     Portcast, a finalist from 2018, developed predictive visibility for global container movements.  This enables shipping companies and shippers to improve productivity by up to 30% and reduce supply chain costs by up to 15%.

ii. Portcast now has 15 employees including data scientists and software developers.  It will expand its platform into an intelligent control tower for global supply chains, and is working to secure a second round of venture capital funding to support this growth. 

Strengthening our Marinetech ecosystem

7.     To build a vibrant Marinetech ecosystem, developing challenges for start-ups is not enough.  Any city or port authority can launch its own challenge.  To differentiate Singapore from the competition, we must also create the right conditions to translate good ideas into scalable solutions and enable promising start-ups to grow into viable businesses.  

8.     To achieve these outcomes, we must provide Marinetech companies with access to markets, technology, funding, and talent, at each stage of their growth.

9.     First, access to markets.  

a.     As the top container transhipment port in the world, we are a prime test-bed for new innovations.  Maritime companies in our international maritime centre act as demand drivers and identify innovation opportunities for start-ups.

b.     This creates an environment where start-ups can iterate quickly with end users, facilitating product-market fit, commercialisation, and scale.

10.    Second, access to technology.

a.     There are strong links between research institutes and start-ups in Marinetech, facilitated by the Singapore Maritime Institute.  

b.     This enables start-ups to tap on patents and intellectual property developed for key maritime-related technologies to further strengthen and differentiate their solutions.  

c.     Many good ideas originate from our research centres, but these ideas can only be put into action and translated into concrete outcomes if they are brought out of the lab and into the commercial world.  

11.    Third, access to funding.

a.     MPA is enhancing support for start-ups to pilot and scale their projects through the recent establishment of the MINT-STARTUP grant, which is part of $10 million earmarked to drive the growth of Marinetech companies here.

b.     Last year, MPA and ESG’s SEEDS Capital partnered six venture capital groups, or VCs, to provide a total of $50 million in co-investment funds for promising marine-tech start-ups. 

c.     Today, I am pleased to announce three new VC partners as part of the PIER71 platform. 

i.     IMC Ventures, Motion Ventures, and MOL PLUS have a wealth of expertise in shipping, technology, decarbonisation and beyond.  Their involvement will ensure that solutions developed are useful and scalable to the industry.  

ii.    Collectively, the new VC partners will provide a further $30 million of potential funding for Marinetech start-ups.

12.    Lastly but importantly, access to talent. 

a.     Innovation is most likely to happen at the intersection of different ideas, skills, and perspectives.  This is why we must remain open to innovators and entrepreneurs from around the world, and welcome them to set up their business in Singapore or conduct their research and test-bedding here. 

b.     We will also support the continuous skills development of our local maritime workforce, and grow a strong Singapore core for the industry.  This requires the tripartite partners to collaborate closely in carrying out industry transformation and helping one another to attract, train and develop our workers to be ready for new exciting opportunities.

i.     The importance of tripartism has been demonstrated and reinforced during this crisis, such as when government, unions and employers came together to work out protocols for safe crew change last year. 

ii.    We are also working with our tripartite partners to build workforce capabilities and attract more Singaporeans to join us in growing Maritime Singapore.

c.     Today, I am pleased to announce that we are adding a new area to our tripartite collaboration.    

i.     MPA will partner employers, the Singapore Shipping Association, and our unions to implement Company Training Committee (CTC) initiatives to help maritime SMEs map out their digitalisation and training plans for their workers.

ii.    MPA and the Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union will organise a series of discussions with maritime companies.  These conversations will focus on the companies’ digitalisation journeys, and how to equip their employees with new skills for the future, and attract more Singaporeans to join the maritime sector.

iii.   In my roles at both the Ministry of Transport and NTUC, I am delighted to see this collaboration take off.  It builds on the strong tripartite partnership that we enjoy in the maritime sector, and I firmly believe it will allow us to build stronger capabilities to be ready for the future.  This is like adding a new propeller to our ship, so that it can go faster and sail further.  

Conclusion

13.     Ladies and gentlemen, as we embark on this year’s Smart Port Challenge, I hope that our partners – corporates, VCs, start-ups, the research community – will join us in this journey of discovery and adventure.  

14.     Together, we can create a bright future for Marinetech in Singapore, and position ourselves as a hub for ideas, capital, investments and talent – the Silicon Valley of Marinetech.  

15.     A place where dreams can become reality; passion can develop into possibilities; and ideas can translate into solutions that will change the world and shape our collective future. Thank you.