SPEECH BY MS QUAH LEY HOON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, MARITIME AND PORT AUTHORITY OF SINGAPORE FOR THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE (NUS) CENTRE FOR INTERNATIONAL LAW (CIL)’S WEBINAR ON “COVID-19 AND INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING” ON 3 JUNE 2020

03 June 2020

1     Good afternoon. I would like to also thank the Centre for International Law (CIL) for bringing us together to discuss this important issue. Koji-san’s speech has given us much food for thought.

2     My 2020 workplan for MPA is the three “D”s: Digitalisation, Decarbonisation, and Disruption. I had never expected “Disruption” to come in the form of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

After COVID-19: The “New Normal” - Disruptions to the Global Maritime Industry

3     I wanted to talk about the “New Normal”. As over 80% of the world’s trade is carried by sea, ports must stay open so that essential supplies can get to where they are urgently needed to fight the virus, and for survival. Ports must operate 24/7 throughout the pandemic.

4     In terms of trends, I wanted to map out some of the trends that we are seeing. We expect the pandemic to drag the world into a recession. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects the global economy to contract by 3% in 2020, a sharp downward revision from its earlier forecast of 3.3% expansion.

5     We also expect production and consumption to be scaled back around the world, although it depends on how the demand rebounds back. But the World Trade Organization (WTO) expects global trade to fall by between 13% to 32% in 2020.

6     Post-pandemic, we also expect trade patterns to shift. We might see an increase in intra-regional volumes, and shorter supply chains. Some experts have commented that the demand for smaller vessels on short-sea routes might increase, and that demand for very large container ships could fall.

7     The pandemic situation will remain fluid, and it will have profound impact still waiting to be seen. There is much that we do not know yet, but we do know that the “New Normal” will be shaped by the intersection (or even the dilemma of many governments) over the concerns of lives to minimise threat, and livelihoods such as economy and jobs.

New growth drivers in the “New Normal”

8     So what could we do collectively (as governments and the industry) to shape this “new normal”? I make three suggestions:

(i) International leadership and cooperation as a beacon for the path ahead;
(ii) Digitalisation and Automation to boost the engine of growth; and
(iii) Partnering businesses to transform the maritime workforce.

(i) International leadership and cooperation as a beacon for the path ahead

9     Koji-san earlier mentioned that international leadership and cooperation are vital in tackling transboundary issues such as COVID-19. We cannot agree more. The fight against such pandemics can only be won through our collective efforts because “no one is safe unless everyone’s safe”.

10    Even during these difficult times, we must never forget it is because of the present open and rules-based system that international shipping can strive. It will take global leadership to preserve and advance this system, rather than cave into protectionist tendencies in the “new normal”.

11    IMO’s leadership will be critical today to rally the industry together. At the start of the pandemic, the IMO sprang into action, working with Member States, the industry – both ports and shipping – and with other organisations to minimise disruption to shipping and support the continuation of global supply chains. They have also issued a few statements, working together with industry associations (e.g. IAPH and ICS). The IMO Secretariat is also actively looking at resuming its meetings as soon as practicable, to advance the important work on the IMO’s agenda.

12    On crew change, MPA recognises that seafarers play an important role in keeping the global trade going. However, as with all other modes of travel, crew change would not be able to be carried out the same way as it was done before COVID-19. We have therefore been working closely with various stakeholders and relevant government agencies to develop protocols and procedures, which will allow crew change to be carried out in a controlled and regulated environment, to minimise the risk to public health within Singapore as well as to the shipping community. We have established a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), which we call Crew Change Safe Corridor.

13    Another key action that MPA has taken is to allow for crew change to take place in Singapore under special circumstances since March 2020. We recently expanded the circumstances for crew change, taking into account the industry’s feedback. For example, crew members who have completed their employment contract can now do crew change in Singapore. This is on top of allowing crew change on compassionate and medical grounds. For all medical cases, MPA has allowed for crew change and provided them medical care.

14    However, we are not stopping there. I am pleased to say that the Singapore Shipping Association has taken the lead to look at creative feasible solutions (e.g. chartering dedicated flights to facilitate direct ship-to-plane arrangements), and launched a handbook on crew change procedures in Singapore which the industry could use as reference.

15    Another priority is global supply chain connectivity. In this regard, Singapore worked with 174 other UN Member States for the “Joint Statement on Supply Chain Connectivity” to underscore the global community’s resolve to keep global supply chains going. MPA also initiated the Port Authorities Roundtable (PAR) Declaration, which I’m pleased to say that 57 ports came onboard to commit to keep our ports open and to minimise disruptions to the global supply chain. We have also held two video-conferences to share best practices and measures.

(ii) Digitalisation and Automation to boost the engine of growth

16    The next pillar is to accelerate Digitalisation. During these times, we do see an acceleration of Digitalisation, and a prime example is this Webinar. I noticed that the industry issued a statement yesterday (2 June 2020), to call for action to accelerate digitalisation. Digitalisation will be part of the “New Normal”, so that business activities can go about in a more efficient and effective manner.

17    Some of you will know that MPA launched the digitalPORT@SGTM last year as a one-stop portal for port-related clearances. digitalPORT@SGTM has been well received by the industry. During this pandemic, more than 500 shipping companies could access this portal to get a one-stop clearance to enter our port.

18    MPA will also work with like-minded stakeholders[1] to link digitalPORT@SGTM to their respective platforms, to create a seamless cross-border digital network where different systems can be linked up to interoperate. We call this digitalOCEANSTM.

19    To reduce the need for a human interface in our operations while maintaining efficiency, we have carried out trials for shore to ship delivery and last month, we had our first drone delivery service. Another initiative is the conducting of tele-medical consultation with seafarers, so we no longer need to only have physical consultations.

(iii) Partnering businesses to transform the maritime workforce

20    Next is about partnering businesses to transform the maritime workforce, and we think it is good opportunity to do so.

21    Besides the four national packages – Resilience, Solidarity, Unity, and Fortitude – which was announced by our Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Mr Heng Swee Keat, MPA also announced the MaritimeSG Together Package.[2]

22    Amounting to about S$27 million, the MaritimeSG Together Package will help maritime companies, individuals and seafarers, and prepare them to seize the opportunities in a post-COVID world.

Conclusion

23    With each crisis, it comes with opportunities, as what we see in the Chinese word: “危机”. Shipping is a very resilient industry, and it has gone through many recessions. Initially, we thought that the IMO 2020 would be the greatest challenge of the decade. Little did we know that COVID-19 would come along. But being a resilient industry and being the backbone of global trade, I’m sure that we will emerge stronger.

24    Thank you.

[1] They include other maritime and port authorities, port operators and shipping companies.
[2] To prepare and support the maritime industry for a prolong battle against COVID-19, MPA has rolled out a SGD27 million MaritimeSG Together Package to provide targeted support for maritime companies, individuals and seafarers. The package includes: further financial support for maritime companies such as port dues concession and rebate on counter rental and overnight berthing; greater support for upskilling and digital transformation efforts; and financial and employment support for Singaporean seafarers. These took effect from 1 May 2020, on top of economic relief measures announced earlier.