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Speech by Minister for Transport, Mr Ong Ye Kung, at the 15th Anniversary Symposium of the ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre (ISC)

18 Mar 2021 Speeches

Distinguished Governors of ReCAAP, 
 
High Commissioners, 
 
Excellencies, 
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
1.     I am happy to join you today, as the ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre (ISC) commemorates its 15th anniversary. 
 
Protecting a Global Commons
 
2.     Seaborne trade has long been the quiet and reliable enabler of the world economy, way before the term “multi-national companies” was coined, and way before the word “globalisation” became a buzzword. 
 
3.     It has been indispensable in ensuring that people around the world have access to essential goods - food, energy, and medical supplies. Today, more than 80% of world merchandise trade by volume is carried by sea. So while COVID-19 has caused upheavals in seaborne trade, it has also accentuated the importance of global shipping. 
 
4.     In that context, we also underscore the importance of Asia to seaborne trade. As a region it is the largest end market of the world. It is also the largest factory of the world where goods originate. In 2019, nearly 65% of global port-container cargo handling was concentrated in Asia. Today, the region remains the fastest growing part of the world, with a rising middle class. 
 
5.     The world can participate, contribute to and benefit from Asia’s growth, through trade and exchange of people and ideas. Together, we can bring about better lives for our people, and solve global problems together. The more our collective well-being is intertwined with each other, the stronger our co-operation and the safer the world becomes. 
 
6.     In this web of sea lanes that make seaborne trade possible, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore stand out. For centuries, the Straits have been the thoroughfare of the world, a major artery of free trade that provides passage to one-third of global container trade and about one quarter of global oil trade. 
 
7.     How do we protect the Straits of Malacca and Singapore as a global commons? There are two important aspects. First, UNCLOS (which is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) guarantees freedom of navigation through the Straits, thus connecting East and West, India and China, and the world to Southeast Asia. 
 
8.     Second, the global community needs to exercise collective responsibility, and work together to keep the Straits safe. Piracy has a long history in Asia dating back centuries. In more recent times, incidents of piracy and sea robbery in the Strait of Malacca in the early 2000s led to it being declared a “war risk” area by the Lloyds Joint War Committee. A major aspect of safe navigation along the Straits of Malacca and Singapore is to protect our seafarers from the perennial threat of piracy and sea robberies. 
 
9.     ReCAAP therefore entered into force in 2006. It is the first regional government-to-government initiative, and a platform for international co-operation against a transboundary problem. 
 
10.    Many like-minded partners from the region and beyond joined its mission. ReCAAP’s membership started with 14 Contracting Parties, which has grown to 20 today. It includes partners from Europe and the Americas. We look forward to welcoming more partners, such as France and Germany, who are working towards joining ReCAAP.
 
Continued Relevance of ReCAAP ISC
 
11.    The ReCAAP ISC was set up in Singapore in November 2006. Since then, it has established itself as a vital part of the regional anti-piracy architecture, through information sharing, capacity building, and cooperative arrangements.
 
12.    An example of the ISC’s good work was how it tackled the problem of oil cargo thefts. When the centre observed an increase in incidents of oil cargo theft a few years ago, it worked with the industry, the Information Fusion Centre established by the Republic of Singapore Navy, and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at NTU to produce a guide in 2015 for shipowners and crew of tankers transiting through this region. The guide provided practical information, such as key risks to be mindful of, preventive measures to adopt, and also reporting channels. 
 
13.    Such efforts, together with increased enforcement, contributed to the subsequent decline in oil cargo thefts from tankers, from a peak of 15 incidents in 2014, to 3 per year in 2016 and 2017, and none from 2018 onwards. Following this, ReCAAP ISC developed the more comprehensive Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia in 2016, to better prepare shipowners and crew members. 
 
14.    In capacity building, the centre adapted quickly during the pandemic to ensure that officials from ReCAAP’s Contracting Parties could continue to attend virtual training sessions and lectures. Through technology, the centre also continued its engagements with the shipping industry. More than 150 officials and shipping industry representatives participated in the centre’s events and workshops virtually last year.
 
15.    In the area of international co-operation, the ReCAAP model has been emulated by the International Maritime Organization in its formulation of the Djibouti Code of Conduct in 2009. Three ISCs were set up in 2011 to address piracy and sea robbery in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. Two of the ISCs have since established standard operating procedures for the communication and exchange of piracy-related information so as to raise situation awareness and facilitate coordinated response.
 
16.    Through these efforts, the ReCAAP ISC has created a community of practitioners coming from shipping lines, academia, and government agencies, fostering trust, understanding and collaboration between them. Together, this has improved the overall piracy and sea robbery situation in Asia. Between 2007 and 2020, there was an average of 125 incidents a year in Asia, as compared to 225 a year between 2000 and 2006. But we need to continue to stay vigilant and guard against the threat. 
 
Conclusion 
 
17.    As a major transhipment hub port serving the region and the world, Singapore is committed to doing our part in strengthening the role and effectiveness of the ReCAAP ISC. We have hosted the ISC since its establishment 15 years ago and have devoted significant resources towards its operations over the years. 
 
18.    By locating in Singapore, the ISC is plugged into a vibrant maritime ecosystem. This gives the ISC a good feel of the pulse of the industry, and the opportunity to forge collaborations with key maritime stakeholders such as industry players, naval forces, and academia. 
 
19.    Singapore is honoured to have played an active part in the ISC’s development over the years and will continue to work with the Contracting Parties of ReCAAP in giving the centre our strongest support. Together with the able leadership of the ReCAAP ISC team, I am confident that the centre will continue to grow from strength to strength. Thank you.