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Singapore ensign an assuring mark of quality at sea

The Straits Times by KARAMJIT KAUR

When a ship sails with a red ensign hoisted - the crescent moon and five stars symbolising the Singapore flag - it is an internationally-recognised mark of quality and safety.

Today, there are more than 4,500 commercial ships, with a total capacity of about 91 million gross tonnage, flying the red ensign.

Singapore is the fifth largest ship registry in the world, after Panama, Liberia, the Marshall Islands and Hong Kong, said the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

It is a boost to Singapore's status as a maritime hub that ships want to fly its flag, said Ms Corrine Png, chief executive of transport research firm Crucial Perspective.

"Many shipowners who register their vessels here operate to and from Singapore; enhancing Singapore's transport connectivity and shipping links," she said.

As a signatory to the International Maritime Organisation conventions, MPA has to ensure that ships on its registry maintain high safety standards.

SAFETY FIRST

Checks are common when we sail so we always ensure that our documents and certificates are well updated and properly kept. Safety of the ship, the crew and the cargo is the top priority.

MOL PARADISE'S CAPTAIN SUBHASHIH DUTTA, on the random document and physical checks done by MPA's surveyors.

UPHOLDING STANDARDS

The checks also ensure that Singapore-registered ships operate at a high standard of safety worldwide. This enables Singapore to uphold our reputation as a quality flag as well as our position as a safe and green global hub port.

AN MPA SPOKESMAN, on the checks done by its surveyors to ensure the safety of ships operating in Singapore port waters.

To be eligible for a red ensign, a shipowner or firm must first meet certain criteria including setting up a Singapore-incorporated entity with a minimum paid-up capital of $50,000 and appointing a Singapore resident manager. The ship must also be less than 17 years old.

Apart from an initial screening, MPA's surveyors also conduct random checks not just on Singapore-registered ships but also foreign ones when they call at the Singapore port.

The rules in Singapore are far more stringent than those imposed on ships registered in Panama, Liberia and Marshall Islands, which are the three largest ship registries, analysts said.

For shipowners that choose to register their vessels in Singapore, the biggest advantage is smooth passage and less hassle when they call at foreign ports.

Singapore also offers a wide range of support services for the shipping industry, including convenient access to transport finance and maritime law services, said Ms Png.

A ship inspection by MPA surveyors typically takes three to five hours, said Mr Lim Ray Wen and Ms Fanny Ng, when The Straits Times accompanied the surveyors during a check last Wednesday on the container ship MOL Paradise at the Pasir Panjang port terminal.

Documents are first checked to ensure that the ship has all the necessary vessel, crew and cargo permits and certificates to undertake its voyage - in this case, a 75-day sailing that will take it to several ports in countries including Sri Lanka, Canada and the United States.

Physical checks are then conducted, for example, on emergency equipment like lifeboats as well as the engine room to make sure everything works well.

Mr Lim, 29, said: "With Singapore-registered ships, we seldom find serious problems. But if there are issues, we will let the captain know... The crew is then given a specific timeframe to rectify the defect, after which they have to get back to us to let us know that the problem is fixed."

The only woman among MPA's 21 surveyors, Ms Ng, 29, said: "I sometimes get curious stares when I board a ship but it's usually temporary. I just focus on doing my job well and professionally."

MOL Paradise's Captain Subhashih Dutta, 47, said: "Such checks are common when we sail so we always ensure that our documents and certificates are well updated and properly kept. Safety of the ship, the crew and the cargo is the top priority."

An MPA spokesman said that stringent checks by its surveyors help to ensure the safety of ships operating in Singapore port waters.

"The checks also ensure that Singapore-registered ships operate at a high standard of safety worldwide. This enables Singapore to uphold our reputation as a quality flag as well as our position as a safe and green global hub port," she said.