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Speech by Senior Minister of State Dr Janil Puthucheary at the Inaugural World Congress on Maritime Heritage

13 Mar 2019 Speeches

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good morning.

1.     It is wonderful to see so many of you gathered here today for the inaugural World Congress on Maritime Heritage. I am honoured to be in the company of such a diverse group –industry, government officials, as well as heritage and ocean conservation communities – all brought together by our interest in maritime heritage and our shared vision of a sustainable future.

A Look into Singapore’s Maritime Heritage

2.     Singapore, as an island and city-state, has a long and rich maritime heritage which pre-dates the arrival of Stamford Raffles in 1819. Singapore’s geographical location positions it as a natural intersection point of sea routes.

3.     As early as the 14th century, the people of the Riau archipelago were already travelling here to barter local produce for Chinese, Indian, Arabian and other products. They came here using a wide variety of sea craft including Chinese junks, Indian vessels, Buginese schooners and Arab dhows. In fact, the replica of one such Arab dhow, the Jewel of Muscat, was gifted by the Sultanate of Oman to Singapore in 2010. After travelling five months at sea, the dhow is now on display at the Maritime Experiential Museum here in Resorts World Sentosa.

4.     Fast-forward four centuries, Singapore was already a vibrant sea port, which offered marine services and facilities to visiting ships for docking, loading and unloading goods.

5.     Since then, Singapore has continued to grow in prominence as a maritime nation. In our post-independence years, containerisation as well as world trade took flight. We built our first container terminal at Tanjong Pagar, not far from here. Shortly after in 1972, we welcomed our first container ship – the MV Nihon. This marked the start of Singapore’s development as a global transhipment hub port, which achieved a record throughput of 36.6m TEUs last year.

6.     Apart from the port, Singapore also took deliberate steps to develop ourselves into an international maritime centre. We are now home to a diverse mix of international shipping groups as well as more than 5,000 maritime establishments. Collectively, they employ 170,000 people and contribute around 7% to Singapore’s Gross Domestic Product.

7.     With 90% of world trade being conveyed by sea today, the maritime industry will continue to be the lifeblood of Singapore. But even as we press on with our efforts to grow the industry, we have taken steps to preserve our rich maritime heritage.

8.     For example, our museums feature exhibits on our rich maritime history, one of which is the Tang Shipwreck collection housed within the Asian Civilisation Museum. Discovered in 1998, the collection contains over 60,000 pieces of ceramics, gold and silver objects from the Tang dynasty, and provides early proof of the strong commercial and maritime links that existed between China, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East more than 1,100 years ago.

9.     In addition, key sites or monuments that were of significance to our maritime history have been preserved. These include Clifford Pier, a former passenger landing site which operated from 1933 to 2006; the replica of Fort Canning Lighthouse atop Fort Canning Hill, used to aid maritime navigation between 1903 and 1958; as well as Raffles Lighthouse on Pulau Satuma, which has remained operational since 1855.

10.    Some of these sites are open to the public, and are featured in maritime heritage trails as well as learning journeys that the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) organises as part of its broader community and outreach efforts.

Towards a Shared and Sustainable Future

11.    As maritime trade continues to grow, we are witnessing a stronger emphasis on sustainable shipping, and the need for the international maritime community to do more.

12.    At the International Maritime Organization (IMO), there is an increased commitment to reducing and mitigating the environmental impact from shipping.

13.    In 2018, IMO Member States adopted an ambitious initial strategy aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least half by 2050, compared to 2008.

14.    Come 2020, the IMO 0.5% global sulphur cap will enter into force. This is expected to significantly reduce the amount of SOx emissions from ships.

15.    Similarly, the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also call on communities to cultivate a more sustainable future for humankind.

16.    Notably, the 14th goal or SDG14 focuses on conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources. This ties in closely with our maritime community’s efforts to reduce marine pollution, protect marine and coastal ecosystems, and enhance the sustainable use of the oceans through international law, as reflected in the UN Convention on Law of the Sea or UNCLOS.

17.    As a major port and flag state, Singapore contributes to these efforts by implementing various sustainability initiatives.

18.    For example, we launched the Maritime Singapore Green Initiative in 2011, which promotes the adoption of clean and green shipping practices. I am pleased to share that over 500 participating ships have come on board the Green Ship Programme. These are ships that have adopted energy efficient ship designs or are using cleaner fuels.

19.    Singapore is also actively promoting the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternate marine fuel. In fact, we are one of the 12 participating ports under the LNG Bunkering Port Focus Group, which was set up to develop a global network of LNG bunkering facilities to encourage LNG-fuelled shipping.

20.    Additionally, the Government requires Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) to be undertaken ahead of national development projects, to identify and mitigate any adverse impact of works on our environment. One such EIA was conducted prior to the commencement of reclamation works for our next-generation container terminal at Tuas. To preserve the marine biodiversity found at Sultan Shoal near Tuas, MPA, along with the National University of Singapore, National Parks Board, and nature lovers, successfully relocated around 2,300 coral colonies to the waters at St John’s and Sisters’ islands, within Singapore’s first marine park.

21.    Today’s inaugural World Congress on Maritime Heritage will add to such efforts. With its theme of “Connecting with the Past to Navigate the Future”, I am confident that the conversations over the next three days will uncover new ideas on how we, as one maritime community, can better appreciate our common maritime heritage and can chart a more sustainable future together.

Commemorating the Singapore Bicentennial

22.    For Singaporeans, the theme and timing of this Congress is also particularly meaningful, as it coincides with our bicentennial year. In the coming months, many of us will be reflecting on how our heritage has shaped Singapore’s transformation over the years, through various commemorative events and activities.

23.    In recognition of our roots as a maritime nation, we will also be lining up a series of maritime-themed initiatives, in addition to this Congress, to showcase our vibrant heritage and stories with the wider community.

24.    One such example is the launch of our third Singapore Maritime Trail later this month, which will offer participants a glimpse into maritime trade and activities in the past, and how these have shaped Singapore’s culture, language and identity.

25.    I welcome our foreign friends who live, work or are visiting Singapore, to join us in discovering more about Singapore’s maritime heritage.

26.    And as we take time to reflect on the progress made over the years, it is also equally important for each of us actively pursue new endeavours that contribute to the advancement of our global maritime industry.

27.    Some of these would include developing industry-wide solutions to address key challenges in areas such as environmental protection and safety of navigation; as well as the promoting capacity and capability building across the international maritime community through increased partnerships and collaboration.

28.    As we set sail to on this new chapter of our story, Singapore remains committed to work with like-minded partners and states to forge a better and brighter future for all.

29.    We owe that to our future generations.

Conclusion

30.    On this note, I wish everyone a fruitful time at the Congress, and an enjoyable stay for those visiting Singapore.