30 June 2021

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

1     Thank you once again for giving me an opportunity to speak at China Maritime Day.

2     2021 marks the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore’s 25th anniversary.  Looking back at the past 25 years and looking ahead at our strategies for the next 25 years, Singapore’s global hub and international maritime centre would not be where we are if not for our port workers, onshore workers providing marine services, officers providing maritime services onshore, and certainly our seafarers. 

3     The International Seafarer Forum, organised to pay tribute to seafarers out at sea, is timely and relevant. Seafarers sustain the global supply chain and deliver essential goods. COVID-19 has posed significant challenges to them.  

4     In line with this year’s theme, I will speak on how we can “optimise the environment” for seafarers. First, supporting our seafarers during this COVID period and further build resilience. Second, repositioning our seafarers in the “new normal” as the maritime industry transforms.

Building Resilience to Support our Seafarers through the Pandemic – MPA’s Efforts Towards Seafarers Out at Sea

5     Crew change is a topic widely and intensively discussed around the world. Due to the fluid situation and travel restrictions, the global crew change situation remains a challenge. From our experience, this requires international collaboration as well as constant calibration of measures. 

6     Singapore has facilitated more than 140,000 crew changes since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Singapore has been working on three broad areas to support seafarers:

i. First, safe crew change protocol

Together with our industry and unions, Singapore put in place a set of procedures to carry out crew change in a safe and sustainable manner amidst the pandemic. This requires constant tweaking to take into account latest developments such as more contagious strains. The process includes bubble-wrapped travel through a safe corridor made possible by repeated testing and quarantine at accredited holding facilities in seafaring nations.

ii. Second, an international fund to support crew
Singapore has come up with the Shipping Tripartite Alliance Resilience Fund Taskforce, or STAR Taskforce in short.  With this global fund, STAR has put in place audit of crew isolation facilities and adopt the use of wearables to support quarantine and health monitoring of seafarers. 

iii. Third, the use of technology
These include ship-to-shore drone delivery to send vitamins and food, and telemedicine consultation methods to swiftly provide safe and reliable medical care for seafarers. 

7     As part of the national strategy, we have also been widely testing and vaccinating our maritime personnel.
  1. Singapore is one of the first countries to vaccinate our maritime workers including our seafarers. We launched our Sea-Air Vaccination Exercise (or SAVE in short) in February 2021 in recognition of our reliance on frontline maritime personnel. Close to 100% of our frontline maritime including our seafarers have been fully vaccinated.[1]
  2. Under SAVE, we have also started vaccinating foreign seafarers working in the port of Singapore, where around 72% have been fully vaccinated.[2]
  3. There needs to be global efforts to vaccinate the seafarers out at sea. As the International Maritime Organization (IMO) works with international unions and shipping associations to secure vaccines for international sea crew, Singapore will do our part to continue supporting the efforts of the IMO.

Re-Imagining Seafarers’ Role in the “New Normal”, alongside the Maritime Industry’s Transformation

8     As we need to continue to look after the welfare of our seafarers, we also need to be cognisant that the sector is fast transforming during this pandemic. The maritime sector is shifting to a “new normal”.

9     What are some features of this “new normal”? Modes of operation will be increasingly digitalised; humans can do more with less. Data analytics will become a norm; we can have aids to make better decisions. The types of ships are also shifting as we move towards IMO targets for greenhouse gas emissions; we need new technical skills. 

10    What does this mean for our seafarers? Let me give you two examples.
  1. First, seafarers will see administrative burden reduced as less physical documents would be required. Last year, I spoke on maritime single windows, and how MPA and China Maritime Safety Administration have been working on electronic port clearance even before the pandemic. Electronic port clearance using maritime single windows can improve country-to-country connectivity, making it possible for shipmasters to receive port clearance before arriving. Both administrations have made good progress, developed a working model, and conducted successful trials since then.
  2. A second example is the advent of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships, or MASS in short. We may not see a fully autonomous ship operating commercially soon, but we will see greater automation and more smart systems being used onboard. Automation can improve ship and therefore seafarers’ safety, by providing enhanced situational awareness and supporting navigation and hazard identification. MPA has started working on the development of MASS technologies, where one effort is the MASSPorts Network to align standards for MASS to seamlessly inter-operate across ports. MASS can assist seafarers in conducting their roles with greater efficiency and safety.
  3. Third, we will see more trials of ships using new energy lines. We will see more LNG ships in the transition. We will also see ships being run on ammonia, bio-fuels, methanol, ethanol etc. Seafarers will be able to upskill and be trained to handle these different energy types onboard.
11    What the above shifts means that it is no better time to invest on our talent, on our seafarers. We need to nurture highly-skilled operational talents to manage shipboard operations efficiently; we need to develop programmes for our seafarers to be competent and adaptable. Singapore is glad to be connected with reputable maritime universities such as World Maritime University and Shanghai Maritime University, to support talent and academic exchange.


12    The past year has drawn attention to the critical role that seafarers play in enabling global supply chains. Despite the pandemic, seafarers all over the world continue to make personal sacrifices to labour behind the scene to ensure food, medicines and other essential supplies reach our shores. I salute their steadfastness and resolve. Singapore will continue to do our part for seafarers of today and the future. Thank you to the 1.6m seafarers onboard ships carrying out this critical role.

13    On this note, I wish the China Maritime Day a resounding success. Thank you.

[1] To date, more than 36,800 (or 94.6%) maritime personnel including seaport workers have received at least one dose of vaccine. Among them, some 34,700 have been fully vaccinated, which includes 99.4% of frontline maritime personnel.
[2] Singapore has started vaccinating close to 5,500 foreign seafarers working onboard our harbour craft operating in our port waters, as part of Phase 2 of our vaccination programme. To date, some 4,400 foreign crew or about 80% of harbour craft work permit holders have received at least one dose of vaccine, with 3,911 (around 72%) being fully vaccinated.