During the annual Kusu Island Pilgrimage from 29 September to 27 October this year, tens of thousands of devotees were estimated to have visited the island to pay their respects to the Da Bo Gong (Tua Pek Kong) temple on the island. As one of Singapore's Southern Islands, Kusu Island attracts the most visitors during the annual pilgrimage season, with an average of 42,000 people visiting the island every year between 2013 and 2017 according to the Singapore Land Authority.
Singapore Island Cruise (SIC) is the sole ferry operator to the island, having been in service for more than a decade since it started in 2007. Ryden Fang, Director of Singapore Island Cruise said that the travel patterns of the Pilgrims have remained relatively the same over the years, with most visitors choosing to visit over the weekends. "The only thing that has fluctuated is the number of visitors going every year," he added.
While the travel patterns of passengers remained fairly constant, Ryden shared that Singapore Island Cruise has continuously upgraded their operations to better serve their customers. "Back in 2007, we started with four ferries and now we have expanded to 12 ferries in our fleet. This has effectively reduced the waiting time to approximately an hour during the Pilgrimage weekends compared to about two to three hours back in the old days," said Ryden.
During the Pilgrimage season, the ferries will run throughout the day with intervals of 30 minutes to an hour to cope with the increased demand. However, the real challenge begins when there is inclement weather. "Bad weather such as the haze incident back in 2015 or heavy thunderstorms might affect the captain's visibility," he explained.
To ensure safety on board the vessels, SIC ferries are required to undergo a Passenger Ship Safety Inspection on a yearly basis before they are issued with a certificate that deemed the ferry to be safe and operable.
"The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA)'s Marine Surveyors from the Flag State department will also conduct an inspection - approximately one month before the season - on our ferries that will be deployed," said Ryden. "Ferries that have not gone through or pass the additional inspection are not allowed to ply the voyage to Kusu Island."
On top of the mandated inspections, SIC has a rigorous safety framework in place to manage the risks. "We have our own risk assessment and safe work procedures which we ensure that they are followed strictly. At Singapore Island Cruise, we strongly emphasise on the importance of the safety procedures and we are proud to announce that we are now an ISO-certified company with BizSafe Level 3."
BizSAFE is a five-step programme designed by the Workplace Safety and Health Council to help companies build workplace safety and health (WSH) capabilities. To achieve BizSafe Level 3 certification, the company needs to show that it has a risk management plan implemented to address all risks highlighted. Additionally, the company must also engage an approved WSH auditor to conduct the certification.
Ryden highlighted that passengers should observe the rules for a safe passage, including no smoking on board the ferry. "Passengers should also remain seated, even when the ferry is approaching the jetty, until the vessel is securely moored for embarkation or disembarkation. Disregarding these rules can lead to injuries and prematurely ending all plans to enjoy the day."