OPENING ADDRESS BY MRS LIM HWEE HUA MINISTER IN THE PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE AND SECOND MINISTER FOR FINANCE AND TRANSPORT AT THE OPENING OF INTERNATIONAL CHEMICAL AND OIL POLLUTION CONFERENCE AND EXHIBITION 2011 MONDAY, 11 APRIL 2011

11 April 2011

Distinguished guests,
 

Ladies and gentlemen,
 

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the 7th International Chemical and Oil Pollution Conference and Exhibition, or ICOPCE, as it is more popularly known. Today's gathering of many distinguished international experts underscores ICOPCE as an important event for the international maritime community.

Oil spills are an unfortunate risk for the exploration and maritime industries. Many of you will still remember vividly the live cam pictures streaming from the Deepwater Horizon and the devastating impact that the resultant oil spill had on the Gulf of Mexico. Nearer home, Singapore too had first-hand experience with an oil spill, albeit on a much smaller scale, when two vessels collided recently in the Singapore Strait. Together, these incidents remind us of the need to be vigilant and to continually find ways to strengthen our prevention and response measures for oil and chemical spills.

Singapore's Commitment to Environmental Protection

Singapore remains committed to protecting the marine environment while promoting the sustainable growth of the maritime industry. Our three key thrusts in tackling oil spills are: prevention, resilience and innovation. Let me touch on these briefly.

Taking Preventive Measures

As a responsible flag state, Singapore is party to all six Annexes of the MARPOL Convention, which sets international standards and practices for the prevention of ship-sourced pollution. We are one of the few countries in Asia to do so. Through effective regulation of MARPOL standards, we minimise the risk of pollution from Singapore-registered ships sailing around the world, as well as vessels calling at the port of Singapore.

As a premier hub at the very heart of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, we have placed a strong emphasis on navigational safety to prevent accidents that could lead to an oil or chemical spill. The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, or MPA, will soon launch a new Port Operations Control Centre at Changi that will be equipped with a new Vessel Traffic Information System to enhance vessel traffic management in and around Singapore's waters.

As oil and chemical spills are often transboundary in nature, regional cooperation is vital. Singapore works closely with the other littoral states to keep the Straits of Malacca and Singapore safe for international shipping. Through the Cooperative Mechanism on Safety of Navigation and Environmental Protection, the three littoral states regularly engage user states and industry players in dialogue and joint projects to enhance navigational safety and prevent pollution. We have also established standard operating procedures under the Revolving Fund Committee to jointly combat oil spills in the Straits. These procedures proved useful when they were activated during last year's oil spill.

Ensuring Resilience and Rapid Response

Notwithstanding our best efforts, we cannot guarantee that accidents will never happen. It is therefore equally important that we maintain a high level of resilience and preparedness so that we can respond swiftly and effectively to any accident. In Singapore, MPA works closely with other government agencies and industry partners to put in place comprehensive contingency plans to combat oil and chemical spills. These were used to good effect in last year's clean-up efforts. To sharpen our operational capabilities, we also conduct regular multi-agency exercises such as the live Joint Oil Spill Exercise (JOSE) organised in October last year in conjunction with the Singapore International Bunkering Conference (SIBCON). You will also have an opportunity to observe another live CHEMSPILL Exercise on the third day of ICOPCE.

Leveraging Innovation and Technology

Ultimately, for prevention and response measures to be effective, we must continue to explore and invest in new solutions. During last year's oil spill, MPA and other government agencies looked beyond the conventional and experimented with innovative solutions. For example, craft normally used to retrieve flotsam were modified to sieve out oil stained debris which conventional skimmers could not handle. MPA will share its experience in the clean-up operation during tomorrow's session.

MPA will also use its Maritime Innovation and Technology Fund, or MINT Fund, to support research and development on new technology to combat oil spills. For example, one project supported by the Fund is to develop an optical and infra-red surveillance system to detect oil spills further out at sea; while another project aims to develop nano-composite materials that can recover spilled oil.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, the maritime industry has placed sustainable growth and environmental protection as important pillars of its future development. The Singapore government shares these objectives and looks forward to working with industry to enhance pollution prevention and response. ICOPCE therefore provides a unique opportunity for government and industry to exchange insights and share best practices.

On this note, I declare the 7th ICOPCE open. I wish you a fruitful conference, and hope that you also take advantage of the many other networking opportunities offered by the Singapore Maritime Week.

Thank you.