01 April 2010

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very good afternoon.

I am honoured and pleased to join you at today's Seminar, held in conjunction with India's 47th National Maritime Day Celebrations.

The theme of the seminar "Seafaring - A Career of Opportunities" is a very apt one indeed and addresses a challenge faced by all maritime nations - that of getting more young men and women to join the ranks of seafarers.

With more than 90 per cent of world trade being transported by sea, the importance of shipping to the global economy cannot be overstated. For shipping to run (or perhaps I should say "to sail"), the role of seafarers is crucial. To ensure that shipping is run efficiently, safely, and without polluting the marine environment, seafarers need to be well-trained, well-compensated, and have their welfare adequately looked after. In these areas, India and Singapore share common interests; India being one of the largest supplier of seafarers in the world, and Singapore being one of the 10 largest flag in the world.

On Singapore's part, we have made efforts to address these issues. Although the Maritime Labour Convention has yet to come into force, we have embarked on efforts to draft the required national legislation to prepare to ratify the Convention. On training and raising the quality of seafarers, Singapore has been active at the IMO, having led several drafting groups on the revision of the International Convention on Standards of Training and Watchkeeping, or STCW.

Global Shortage of Seafarers and Singapore's tripartite approach
Beyond these, however, a further challenge looms large; that of ensuring an adequate supply of seafarers to meet increasing demands on world shipping. At present, the global shortfall of officers is estimated at 34,000. By 2012, the shortfall is expected to increase to some 84,000. The recent economic downturn has provided some respite, but only a temporary one. To address this challenge, the global nature of shipping requires the collective efforts of all stakeholders - the industry, the IMO and maritime administrations. All of us have a part to play and we need to work together.

Allow me to share with you the approach that Singapore has adopted and some of the efforts that we have made. But before that, let me state upfront that we definitely do not have all the answers and our efforts are very much work in progress. There is also a lot that we can learn from the experiences of India and other countries. In particular, the presentations and panel discussions earlier this afternoon provided much food for thought.

Singapore's small population of less than 5 million means that we have a limited manpower base, which in turn limits our ability to sustain an adequate supply of seafarers. Compounding this is the misperception among some young Singaporeans (and their parents as well) that seafaring is a dirty and dangerous job.

One of the challenges we face in Singapore is thus to correct this misperception and to help potential seafarers and their parents to understand that seafaring is a career of opportunities and a career of choice. While acknowledging that seafaring is not without risk, we also strive to highlight that shipping is a well regulated industry with multiple safety standards and requirements, and that there are many initiatives in Singapore and around the world to protect and ensure the safety and well being of seafarers.

Fortunately, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (or MPA) does not have to face this challenge alone. In Singapore, we adopt what we call a tripartite approach - or a partnership among the Government (represented by MPA), the union (in this case the seafarers' unions) and employers. Our tripartite approach allows us to take a co-ordinated partnership approach towards meeting the challenge of attracting and retaining quality seafarers.

Promoting a Seafaring Career
In promoting a seafaring career, MPA works closely with the industry-led Singapore Maritime Foundation and the unions to promote seafaring careers to students. Together with the industry and the unions, we co-fund seafaring scholarships like the TMSS, or Tripartite Maritime Scholarship Scheme and the SAIL, or Seafaring Investment for Life. These scholarships aim to encourage young Singaporeans to take up seafaring courses at the Singapore Maritime Academy.

As part of our outreach efforts, MPA partners the Singapore Maritime Foundation and the industry in the MaritimeONE or Maritime Outreach NEtwork initiative. Through MaritimeONE, we strive to reach out to students, young adults and their parents to share about the opportunities, challenges and rewards of maritime careers, including seafaring careers.

This is not always an easy task. Many many years ago, we could have enticed young people with "go to sea and see the world". If we tried that now, they would probably tell us that with budget airlines, they can easily see the world without going to sea.

One initiative that we tried which saw some success was the use of television drama serials to add a touch of glamour to seafaring and other maritime careers. This helped people to see such careers in a different light and opened their minds to the possibility of a seafaring career.

MPA also makes use of the annual Singapore Maritime Week to reach out to the public about all things maritime. The Singapore Maritime Week gathers the international maritime community annually in Singapore for a week of conferences, dialogues, exhibitions and social events. The Singapore Maritime Week is really about People, Ideas and Opportunities and we believe that when people and ideas come together, opportunities will abound. This year's Singapore Maritime Week will be held from the 25th to the 30th of April. As part of our public outreach efforts this year, we are organising a maritime themed photography competition and exhibition, an Amazing Maritime Race and Maritime Learning Journeys for students.

Singapore and Welfare of Seafarers
Beyond our efforts to promote maritime careers, MPA also works closely with the seafarers' unions and the shipping industry to promote and protect the well-being of seafarers. We have in place a Welfare Committee for Seamen, chaired by MPA and comprising members from the industry and the seamen missions, to look after the interests of seafarers in Singapore. We also have in place various schemes such as the Special Relief Fund, which provides immediate financial assistance to the dependants of Singaporean seafarers who are missing at sea and the Long Service Retirement Award, which offers monetary benefits for retiring seamen who have sailed for at least 15 years. The Singapore Stranded Seafarers Fund, jointly funded and administered by MPA and the unions, looks after the welfare of seafarers in the event that employers fail to fulfil their obligations due to bankruptcy or insolvency.

Upholding Safety and Security
Talking about promoting and protecting the well-being of seafarers would not be complete without mention of the threat to the lives and well-being of seafarers posed by piracy. This is particularly so with the piracy situation in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. Piracy is a very real threat to seafarers and to shipping. It is an international problem that requires multi-national efforts and international co-operation.

In this regard, India's contribution to the efforts to combat piracy is highly commendable and has been recognised internationally. The Indian warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia have answered and responded to many distress calls by vessels under pirate attacks.

As a small country with a small Navy, Singapore is limited in what it can do. Nonetheless, we try our best to play a part in the fight against piracy as a responsible member of the international community. Last year, Singapore dispatched a Landing Ship Tank and two Super Puma helicopters to join the Combined Task Force 151 in the Gulf of Aden for three months. In January this year, Singapore took over command of the Combined Task Force 151 for a three month tour of duty. In June this year, we will again be sending a Landing Ship Tank and two Super Puma helicopters, this time for five months. We will also be sending a Maritime Patrol Aircraft for three months from December this year.

Back at home, MPA actively engages the industry to keep them up-to-date on the piracy situation and counter-piracy measures. We also encourage them to take the necessary preventive measures and to implement the Best Management Practices to deter piracy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the human element is an integral and vital part of international shipping which merits utmost attention from the authorities, the industry and the unions. Without seafarers, there can no shipping industry. Attracting and retaining seafarers, and ensuring and protecting their safety and well-being may not be easy tasks, but these are necessary and vital tasks that we must all undertake.

Finally, may I wish you a pleasant evening and an enjoyable weekend ahead. Thank you.