On 12 January 2018, Singapore’s Minister of State for Transport, Lam Pin Min, launched Singapore’s new “Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map.”
Considering the maritime industry’s pivotal role in Singapore’s economy, and the fierce competition between global ports, Singapore’s government is determined to ensure the country remains a leading maritime trading hub. The strategic blueprint aims to create over 5,000 new jobs in the maritime sector and grow its “value-add” by S$4.5bn (US$3.50bn) by 2025, by developing technological innovation, workforce talent, and connectivity between maritime industry actors.
The strategic blueprint will be implemented by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore with close support from industry stakeholders and Singapore research centres, and will operate through a collaborative effort of public and private initiatives and the promotion of tech start-ups.
Singapore’s maritime hub at a glance
The Port of Singapore is currently the world’s second-busiest port in terms of total shipping tonnage (behind Shanghai), and the world’s largest transhipment port (ahead of Hong Kong) with a fifth of the world’s shipping containers passing through yearly (only 6% of containers actually ending their journey in Singapore).
Forward-looking trends are positive: figures for vessel arrival tonnage, cargo throughput, bunker sale volumes, and the total tonnage of ships under Singapore flag, have all consistently increased between 2013 and 2017. Bunker sales exceeded 50 million tonnes for the first time in 2017, as Singapore continues to consolidate its position as the world’s top bunkering port.
Despite its advantageous geographical position, Singapore has to maintain its competitiveness and attractiveness. As the Minister of State for Transport noted in the strategic blueprint’s inaugural speech, “we watch with cautious optimism, as the road ahead remains challenging. Indeed, we have to continue to paddle hard to stay ahead.” Singapore’s economy is heavily reliant on the maritime industry, which contributes over 7% of its GDP and employs more than 170,000 people.
It is envisaged that an open-ended list of initiatives will be implemented, putting Singapore at the forefront of future port logistics and operations technologies. For example:
- Research & development initiatives will develop digitalisation, robotics and automation to support portside logistics. The applications of this technology are potentially extensive, and include automated yard and quay cranes, and automated guided vehicles.
- The improvement of real-time data sharing will improve communication and operational efficiencies between vessels, cargo owners, port operators, freight forwarders, ship management service providers and other related parties.
- The digitalisation of trade and maritime documentation, such as the adoption of electronic trading systems and electronic bills of lading, will streamline processes between all parties across the industry chain.
Singapore authorities will support the industry’s efforts to adopt new technologies, by setting up pilot schemes and platforms through which they can implement innovative solutions together with start-up technology developers.
The Singapore Maritime Institute and the National University of Singapore intend to invest S$12million (US$9million) to establish a new “Centre of Excellence in Modelling and Simulation for Next-Generation Ports.” The Centre will model and simulate capabilities required for increasingly complex operations. Importantly, it will help to develop Singapore’s future port – the “Tuas Mega Port” – where it is projected that all current port operations will be consolidated by 2040.
In order to maintain its attractiveness as a leading international maritime centre, and to strengthen its networks abroad, Singapore is looking to attract global companies’ corporate presence and create further synergies between insurance, broking, financial services, classification societies, P&I Clubs, legal and other service providers.
For example, an annual Maritime Capital Forum was first launched at the end of 2017, which aims to help ship owners meet their financing requirements by linking with investors both in Singapore and elsewhere. Acting as a middle man, and as an alternative to the more established capital markets such as Norway, London and New York, this initiative should further develop Singapore’s maritime financing landscape.
Manpower will have to adapt in line with the digitalisation and automation of port systems, with an emphasis on higher value-added jobs. The Singapore government is already set to transform university and training institutes’ curricula, with close engagement and consultation with the maritime industry.