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Maritime Singapore Embarks on the Next Leg

1123_1Located at the international maritime crossroads, Singapore is inextricably linked with shipping and trade. Successive generations of leaders have leveraged the country’s plum geographical position to build it into a maritime nation of distinction. Today, Singapore is powered by its twin pillars – a global hub port and an international maritime centre (IMC).

“These twin pillars allowed us to cross leverage and create greater synergies with other sectors,” said Tan Beng Tee, Assistant Chief Executive (Development), Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). She was speaking at the Tradewinds Shipowners Forum in May 2018.

Singapore’s port is one of the busiest in the world, handling over 33 million TEUs a year, and is the undisputed leader in container transshipment. Over 130,000 vessels call at the port every year for cargo handling, ship repair, change of crew and bunkering.

“Beyond the physical port, we have established a vibrant IMC. It is an effort that we have embarked on for the last two decades. We saw the need to build other business adjacencies around the port and decided that growing Singapore as an IMC would fill that ambition,” said Ms Tan.

More than 140 international shipping groups are based in Singapore, supported by a network of maritime services. There are 20 plus banks offering ship financing activities, 20 plus major ship broking firms, and over 30 local and international law firms with maritime practice. Singapore also has the fifth largest ship registry in the world, with over 88 million gross tonnes registered.

But the business environment is changing, as Dr Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State for Transport and for Health, told Parliament during the Committee of Supply debate for his ministry in March 2018. “We have done well. However, we are mindful that the sector’s landscape is evolving rapidly and remains challenging. Digitalisation is already transforming global transportation and supply chains, blurring the boundaries between the shipping and logistics sectors. Emerging technologies like blockchain are paving the way for new business models, forcing companies to rethink the way they do business or risk being disintermediated altogether.

“The external environment is also changing. Faced with structural problems like slowing trade growth and shipping overcapacity, the outlook for the global maritime sector remains uncertain…several developments have sparked talk about the emergence of alternative trade routes in the region. China is investing in ports and transport infrastructure across Southeast Asia under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). These include several ports and the East Coast Rail Line in Malaysia.”

A new blueprint has been unveiled to meet these challenges. Developed by the MPA in partnership with the industry, unions and other government agencies, the Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map (ITM) seeks to pursue real and deep transformation within the industry. The overarching vision is to make Singapore a global maritime hub for connectivity, innovation and talent, with the aim of expanding the sector’s value-added by S$4.5 billion and create over 5,000 good jobs by 2025.

The ITM has identified three key thrusts:
• Strengthening Connectivity and Inter-Linkages
• Building a vibrant innovation ecosystem
• Developing a skilled maritime workforce

Strengthening Connectivity and Inter-Linkages
Singapore is deepening and broadening its connectivity to enhance its status as a key economic node of the global trading system.

Physically, Singapore is investing in port capacity and infrastructure for the longterm to meet the industry needs. Construction of the Tuas mega port is underway. When completed in 2040, it will be the single largest container terminal in the world, enabling Singapore to secure its leading position as a global hub port.

Externally, Singapore has to beef up its connections to the region. Through the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative for instance, Singapore and China have developed the Southern Trade Corridor – the maritime route linking China’s overland Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road. This will help to strengthen Singapore’s position as China’s gateway to Southeast Asia and create new opportunities for Singapore-based companies venturing overseas.

To boost non-physical connectivity, the MPA will continue to expand the range of maritime services available in Singapore to increase its attractiveness as a maritime hub. Besides encouraging existing players to set up new business activities, the MPA will promote the growth of non-traditional players such as maritime technology enterprises like Alpha Ori and Metcore. The MPA will also co-fund the cost of shared workspaces and services to encourage expertise and resource sharing among maritime companies.

Building a Vibrant Innovation Ecosystem
As technology is changing the way we live and work, Singapore aims to leverage on emerging technologies such as autonomous systems, robotics, data analytics and artificial intelligence to drive industry transformation.

To foster innovation and productivity-driven growth, the MPA has developed a Living Lab at the port which will provide technology developers and industry partners a real operating environment to co-develop and pilot innovative solutions. Several projects have been initiated, including the development of a remote-assisted pilotage system for harbour pilots to steer vessels from shore, and the testing of vessel traffic management solutions.

To spur innovation, the MPA has set up the Singapore Maritime Data Hub (SG-MDH). For a start, the SG-MDH is making available real-time access to its port and ship-related data, with possibly other types of industry data to be added over time, to pave the way for the development of new applications, services and products.

Working with NUS Enterprise, the MPA is jointly rolling out the Maritime Technology Acceleration Programme (MTAP) to help start-ups translate their ideas into marketable solutions for the industry.

Developing a Future-Ready Maritime Workforce
In order to support industry transformation, the MPA will roll out a new Global Talent Programme (GTP) by 2019 to groom a pipeline of local maritime talent for future leadership and management positions. It aims to partner up to 20 maritime companies with a strong focus on human capital development GTP over the next seven years. The MPA will co-fund 70% of eligible expenses incurred by companies which are prepared to commit to training local talent through structured rotations and overseas attachments.

The Maritime Cluster Fund will receive an extra S$100 million to implement these new programmes as well as other initiatives. It is envisaged that more than 5,000 new jobs will be created in the maritime sector by 2025.

Speaking at the launch of the Maritime ITM in January 2018, Dr Lam said, “The strategies and targets set out by the ITM are undoubtedly ambitious. But with the strong partnership from the industry, the unions and government agencies such as SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore, I am confident that we can achieve our vision for Singapore to be a Global Maritime Hub for Connectivity, Innovation and Talent.”