Speech by Minister for Transport, Mr Chee Hong Tat, for Singapore Maritime Week 2024 Opening Ceremony

15 Apr 2024Speeches

Sisters and brothers from the Labour Movement,

Ladies and gentlemen,


1.     Good morning, and welcome to the 18th Singapore Maritime Week (SMW). 

Safeguarding Singapore’s Hub Port and International Maritime Centre Status

2.     Our international environment has become more challenging, and this has affected global trade and connectivity. Geopolitical conflicts, including rising tensions in the Middle East, pose a threat to international flights and supply chains. We are also grappling with changes in business models and technology, as well as new developments in emerging areas like digitalisation and decarbonisation.  

3.     Through these ups and downs, I am happy to report that Maritime Singapore has maintained its position as a leading hub port and international maritime centre: first, by serving the needs of vessels and crew that call at our port; and second, by building a vibrant maritime ecosystem with good connectivity, trusted reliability and strong capabilities for the future. 

4.     As a hub port connecting Asia with the rest of the world, Maritime Singapore has grown from strength to strength. 2023 was a record-breaking year for our hub port: Annual vessel arrival tonnage sailed past 3 billion Gross Tonnage (GT) for the first time, increasing by 9.4% over 2022. Singapore’s container throughput reached a new high of 39.0 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), an increase of 4.6% compared to 2022 and surpassing the previous record of 37.6 million TEUs in 2021. In 2024, the Singapore Registry of Ships also passed the 100 million GT mark. 

5.     During the Covid-19 pandemic, shipowners and operators who encountered route disruptions and schedule delays knew that they could count on Singapore as a reliable catch-up port.  This remains one of our value propositions when global supply chains are affected by prolonged conflicts or one-off incidents.

6.     Our port has continued its growth momentum in 2024. In the first quarter of this year, vessel arrival tonnage increased by 7.3% compared to the same period in 2023. Singapore’s container throughput grew 10.7% year-on-year, continuing the strong performance in 2023, to reach almost 10 million TEUs. 

7.     We will continue to invest in raising our port efficiency and competitiveness. When it comes to productivity, our motto is to strive for continuous improvement: “good better best, never let it rest; make your good better and your better best!”  

8.     Singapore introduced the Just-in-Time Planning and Coordination Platform last year, which provides incoming vessels with their estimated time of berthing, allowing vessel owners to plan their journeys more efficiently to reduce costs, lower carbon emissions and shorten waiting times. SO this is good for business and good for the environment.

9.     We are planning decades ahead and have started building Tuas Port in the western part of Singapore. Construction of the port is progressing steadily, with 8 berths in operation today and 3 additional berths to commence operations by end-2024. When fully completed in the 2040s, Tuas Port will be the world’s largest automated container terminal, with a handling capacity of 65 million TEUs.

10.    Singapore is also collaborating with like-minded ports and partners in the maritime ecosystem to prepare for 3igitalization3 and advance our 3igitalization efforts. MPA has thus far established five Green and Digital Shipping Corridors (GDSCs) with the Port of Rotterdam; the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach; the Port of Tianjin in China; 6 ports in Japan; and most recently with Australia just last month. We aim to establish additional GDSCs in 2024, to add to this global network.

11.    These partnerships have started to bear fruit. The GDSC we signed with Rotterdam will be implementing net-zero and digital pilots in the coming year. Our partners under the GDSC with Los Angeles and Long Beach, set up during last year’s Singapore Maritime Week, will be publishing a baseline study on the future demand for zero and near-zero emission fuels along the shipping route later this week. These projects demonstrate the unwavering conviction from Maritime Singapore and our partners to collaborate and invest in our shared future.

12.    Singapore also continues to expand as a leading International Maritime Centre, with more than 180 international shipping groups that are based here, and a vibrant ecosystem of leading shipbroking firms, legal practices, and financial institutions. 

a.     Vitol, a global energy trading firm, has consolidated all its shipping activities under the auspices of Vitol International Shipping in Singapore since the start of 2024. With the expansion, Vitol International Shipping will operate more than 100 vessels globally, and facilitate the safe and efficient movement of energy products around the world.

b.     Japanese shipping company Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, or MOL, has been growing its business presence in Singapore, through the expansion of ship-owning operations in MOL Energia, the setup of MOL LNG Ship Management in Singapore, and the acquisition of Fairfield Chemical Carriers by MOL Chemical Tankers. 

c.     We also welcome the collaboration between MOL and one of our homegrown companies, Pyxis Maritime, to develop their electric harbour craft business in Singapore.

13.    Last month, MAN Energy Solutions, one of the world’s leading global engine makers, opened their largest service hub outside Europe here in Singapore. The $20 million euro, 9,000-square-metre facility will provide round-the-clock access to technical services such as repair and maintenance, as well as provide training for seafarers. 

14.    Singapore has retained our position as the world’s top maritime centre in the Xinhua-Baltic International Shipping Centre Development Index for the past 10 years, most recently in 2023; as well as in the past 5 iterations of the Leading Maritime Cities of the World report by DNV and Menon Economics from 2012 to 2022. 

15.    I thank our industry partners for their trust in and support for Maritime Singapore. Our achievements are due to your vote of confidence in Singapore, as well as the strong tripartite relationship between our businesses, workers, and the government. These have enabled Maritime Singapore to achieve good connectivity to the world and provide a diverse range of maritime services, and allows us to translate our ambitions into concrete actions and outcomes for our companies and our workers. 

Innovation, Reliability and Resilience, and Talent Development

16.    Looking ahead, we expect some turbulence along the way, but we are confident that the global maritime industry will continue to grow.  And Singapore as a hub port and International Maritime Centre can benefit from this growth and the opportunities it brings, including in emerging areas like digitalisation and decarbonisation.  

17.    But we must not rest on our laurels, or make the mistake of thinking that these positive outcomes will happen on auto-pilot.  A rising tide can indeed lift all boats, but the boat and its crew can only benefit if they are well-prepared when the water level rises.  

18.    We must therefore continue to work hard in improving our productivity and competitiveness; stay relevant to changing requirements so that we are able to meet the needs of our local and international stakeholders; and position Singapore as a key node for talent, ideas and capital to come together and create new solutions for the world.  

19.    Our target is to grow Maritime Singapore as a global hub for three important areas that we believe will serve the current and future needs of our industry stakeholders, and allow Singapore to contribute to global development and sustainability goals.  

a.     First, as a hub for maritime innovation.  
b.     Second, as a hub for reliable and resilient maritime operations; and 
c.     Third, as a hub for maritime talent development. 

Hub for Maritime Innovation

20.    First, a global hub for maritime innovation. As the world’s largest transshipment hub port and a thriving International Maritime Centre, Singapore can provide a useful testbed and living laboratory to those seeking to trial innovative maritime solutions in a realistic operating environment. We have set up various regulatory sandboxes to facilitate these pilots, and we are prepared to do more with industry partners in this area.

21.    And because we are known to be thorough and have rigorous standards on safety and reliability, a solution which can pass regulatory scrutiny in Singapore would allow the company to have a useful reference when they bring their solutions to other markets.  

22.    Our earlier work on introducing a regulatory sandbox for maritime drones is a good example, we have seen good applications of this technology during the COVID-19 pandemic. And we are now planning to scale up the deployment and usage of maritime drones in tandem with full 5G connectivity coverage in our port waters by the middle of next year.

23.    Another area is innovation in vessel design. For example, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) is collaborating with ST Engineering AirX, a Joint Venture with Peluca, in its trials of the AirFish Wing-in-Ground craft in Singapore. AirX’s AirFish 8 prototypes operates just above the sea’s surface. The two-seater AirFish 3 prototype will be on display at the EXPO@SMW. These sea trials are the first step in developing such technology for use in maritime transportation and logistics services.

24.    We also work with industry leaders to support our sector’s digital transformation and green transition. For example, MPA is developing a maritime Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Digital Hub with Amazon Web Services, the first-of-its-kind in the region. The Digital Hub will provide opportunities to pilot new and generative AI capabilities for the maritime sector, such as route and fuel optimisation and carbon emissions accounting.  

25.    Instead of building this capability on our own, we think it is quicker and better to work with a leading company like Amazon Web Services. MOT and our statutory boards will adopt this same approach in other domains, and with other industry players, to “borrow their strength” and amplify our efforts.

26.    We recognise that industry partners, both big and small, play a key role in contributing to innovation. But we also know that many start-ups face many challenges in their initial years, including in the maritime industry where scalability is key. 

27.    This is why MPA has been working with the National University of Singapore (NUS) since 2018 to grow Singapore’s maritime innovation ecosystem, through the PIER71 initiative. This has nurtured close to 110 MarineTech start-ups with the support of 62 corporate partners. To date, the participating start-ups have raised over S$65 million in investments from venture capital partners, surpassing our target of S$25 million by 2025.  

28.    The progress is encouraging, but we still have some way to go to meet our target of 150 start-ups that support the global maritime community by 2025.  So do give ourselves a pat on the back for the good progress thus far, but we know more effort is still required.  

29.    There will also be many other areas where we can develop our innovation capabilities, together with local and overseas partners, so that Singapore can grow a supportive ecosystem as a global hub for maritime innovation. 

Hub for Reliable and Resilient Maritime Operations

30.    Next, we aim for Singapore to be a global hub for reliable and resilient maritime operations. We experienced this during the COVID-19 pandemic, where disruptions in port operations elsewhere can affect global supply chains and as a result many shipping lines turned to Singapore as a trusted and reliable “catch-up port”. We will build on this strength to further enhance our connectivity and reliability for industry stakeholders.   

31.    As we digitalise the maritime sector, one area to enhance is cybersecurity. MPA has worked closely with the Singapore Shipping Association and the industry through the Maritime Cybersecurity Roundtable to strengthen the cybersecurity capabilities and resilience of our sector. The Roundtable is developing tools to help shipowners and operators determine the cybersecurity maturity level of their fleet operations, so that they are aware of any gaps and how to better protect themselves. It is also exploring initiatives to further develop the cybersecurity capabilities of our maritime workforce. 

32.    To strengthen vessel navigational safety and efficiency of our hub port, MPA is developing an AI-enabled Next Generation Vessel Traffic Management System. The system will identify traffic hotspots in our port waters and predict collisions using data analytics and machine learning, enabling our vessel traffic officers to handle higher vessel volumes safely.

33.    As international shipping looks to alternative fuels to meet our global decarbonisation targets, Singapore has moved decisively to ensure energy and fuel resilience. We are preparing our port for a multi-fuel future. Our industry has brought in new bunker tankers capable of bunkering higher blends of biofuel and methanol, paving the way for greater emissions reduction for vessels. 

34.    MPA has also issued Expressions of Interest (EOI) for the alternative fuels ammonia and methanol over this past year. For our ammonia EOI, we have shortlisted 6 consortiums, and are studying their comprehensive proposals for the supply of ammonia for bunkering and power generation in Singapore. 

35.    Reliability and resilience also mean that we uphold the highest standards for safety, efficiency, and quality. Enterprise Singapore, through the Singapore Standards Council, has been working closely with industry partners to introduce national standards to support the digitalisation of bunkering supply chain documentation, as well as on methanol and ammonia bunkering. As a major maritime and bunkering hub, Singapore is committed to continue serving as a trusted node for international shipping.

Hub for Maritime Talent Development 

36.    Third, we aspire to be a global hub for maritime talent development. In Singapore, our strong tripartite partnership between government, employers and unions is critical to prepare our workforce for the future.  We believe that a good job is the best welfare for our workers, and the best way to help our people secure lifelong employability is through lifelong learning and skills upgrading.  

37.    MPA and our tripartite partners established the Tripartite Advisory Panel (TAP) in 2022 to look at how we can equip our workforce with future-ready skills and sustain a steady talent pipeline for Maritime Singapore. And as we decarbonise our industry, we must bring our workers along this journey and ensure that they know how to handle alternative fuels safely and effectively. 

38.    One of the TAP’s recommendations was for Singapore to invest in shared maritime training facilities for these fuels and the vessels they power, a proposal which I fully support. 

39.    MPA will establish the Maritime Energy Training Facility (METF), which is a collaboration between 23 stakeholders, spanning major marine engine manufacturers, international organisations, classification societies, trade associations, unions, and the institutes of higher learning. 

40.    With the METF, we are one step closer to achieving our vision for Singapore to be the maritime training hub for the region. Seafarers and other maritime personnel can acquire the necessary skills for safe handling, bunkering, and incident management of alternative fuels and low- or zero-emission vessels.

41.    METF will work closely with industry and our unions to develop training curricula and infrastructure that will be useful both to workers and companies. It will comprise a network of training facilities, such as the Singapore Maritime Academy’s integrated engine room and bridge simulator, and a new dual-fuel marine engine simulator. We expect around 10,000 seafarers and other maritime personnel to be trained at METF from now to the 2030s, as we progressively develop the training facilities.


42.    Ladies and gentlemen, the twin challenges of digitalisation and decarbonisation faced by the maritime industry cannot be tackled effectively by any single country or company alone. I am therefore heartened to see the strong support from our partners across international organisations and governments, as well as from our tripartite partners from the industry and unions. We welcome the opportunity to share our ideas and further our collaborations with all of you. 

43.    Our journey ahead will include voyages through some unchartered waters. This may sound rather intimidating, but it is no different from what seafarers and explorers faced in the past, when they sailed into the open seas.  Some of our expeditions may fail, though we hope not to lose any ship or crew to the Kraken or Sirens.  

44.    The key is to have the same spirit of adventure and perseverance as our forefathers, as one cannot make any new discoveries without experiencing some failures and setbacks along the way.  

45.    And importantly, we need to find the right partners who share the same vision and are willing to shoulder the risks with us.  Together, we can support one another as we embark on this exciting journey and let our dreams set sail.  

46.    I wish everyone a fruitful and enlightening week ahead. And to our friends from overseas, I hope you have some time to also enjoy the sights – and food – of Singapore. Thank you.

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