Singapore is one of the world’s busiest maritime hubs, with annual vessel arrival tonnage reaching 2.66Bn GT and the maritime cluster contributing to around 7% of the country’s GDP.
The port is also the world’s second busiest with container throughput recorded at 30.9M TEU and the number one bunkering port with marine fuel sales recorded at 48.6M tonnes.
Every year is an eventful year for Singapore, and 2017 was marked with difficulties especially for the offshore marine segment, but with positive developments in technology innovation and transformation.
Curtains down for listed offshore firms
This year saw the downfall of many Singapore-listed offshore companies on the back of a severe recession in the offshore marine market. Ezra Holdings filed for bankruptcy in March, followed by the court approval of Swissco’s bankruptcy filing in April.
In July, Singapore-listed but Malaysia-owned Nam Cheong pushed for a restructuring under a scheme of arrangement. In September, Pacific Radiance and Triyards announced plans for financial restructuring.
Recently, EMAS Offshore, Ezion Holdings and Marco Polo Marine averted bankruptcy as they won support from investors and noteholders to go ahead with their respective debt restructuring and refinancing plans.
With the spate of listed offshore companies either going bankrupt or struggling to revive their financial stability, the biggest loser in the long term will be Singapore’s offshore equity market. The offshore and marine industry was once a high-performing segment on the Singapore Exchange. But this segment is fast-shrinking as banks have realised they need to steer clear of offshore companies now deemed as mom and pop shops and sophisticated OSVs seen as mere boats.
Technical guide for LNG bunkering
Singapore is positioning itself to be an LNG bunker-ready port and developments in this area are making good progress this year. In April the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) launched its first technical standard for LNG bunkering.
The Technical Reference (TR) 56 for LNG Bunkering is developed to guide the implementation of operational protocols by licensed LNG bunker suppliers.
The TR56 covers LNG delivery from LNG bunkering facilities to receiving ships through four modes of transfers, and includes all stakeholders involved in the LNG bunkering supply chain such as fuel suppliers, receiving vessels, shipowners and operators, training institutions, and third-party agencies such as consultants and classification societies.
To further support the development of LNG bunkering, MPA announced in December the injection of an additional S$12M (US$9M) with half the amount earmarked to help companies co-fund the construction of new LNG bunker vessels and the other half to co-fund the building of LNG-fuelled ships.
It is the second round of funding for the LNG bunkering sector since the initiative was launched by MPA in September 2015.
Sharpening port operations
In the area of enhancing port competitiveness through technology transformation and innovation, MPA has established a technology partnership platform named MPA Living Lab. The Living Lab will focus on developing capabilities in four areas: data analytics and intelligent systems, autonomous systems and robotics, smart and innovative infrastructure, and safety and security.
The data analytics and intelligent systems will harness data for smarter decision-making and optimised port operations. The autonomous systems and robotics will provide framework conditions to develop and test autonomous vessels, drones and other autonomous systems. The smart and innovative infrastructure will seek to optimise land and sea space by leveraging engineering and technologies. The safety and security aspect will enhance port and maritime safety and maritime cyber security.
MPA claimed that the Living Lab will be the first of its kind in the Asia region and will help Singapore transform its maritime sector into a high technology industry through test-bedding and development of new systems and capabilities for future port operations.
Future of managing ships
In November, Shipmanager Thome Group invited journalists to view its new inhouse interactive, round-the-clock manned fleet operations monitoring room in its Singapore office. The fleet operations control room features onboard CCTV monitoring for individual vessels anywhere in the world, with screen grabs uploaded to the control room every five minutes.
The room also provides various systems to track all 221 managed ships around the globe in the areas of weather monitoring, security zone assessments and warnings, integrated vessel management system implementation and live video conferencing with crew on board.
The tracked information of each vessel can be updated to the control room every 30 minutes or few hours, depending on the location of the vessel or if it needs to be under closer monitoring.
In addition, a room adjoining the control room can be used to set up a team to handle a crisis.
Thome Group chief executive Olav Nortun noted that while shipping is still very much a traditional industry, especially so for family businesses with a conservative mindset, adopting the use of technologies for a more transparent and productive way of operations is an inevitable process.
Drones in the making
Singapore-registered ships can expect huge savings by leveraging drone technology as the port authority announced the development of an acceptance criteria for the use of remote inspection techniques on board vessels. The plan is to roll this out by Q1 2018.
MPA has been conducting several trials using drones to survey cargo tanks of ships, eliminating the need for traditional methods of survey such as erecting staging. This also means surveyors do not have to climb high places to check for defects.
The erection of scaffolding for a special survey of a VLCC, for example, can cost US$2M, according to M3 Marine group chief executive Mike Meade.
MPA pointed out that the next generation vessel traffic management system must be able to intelligently manage and deconflict all types of activities and movements within Singapore port – surface vessels, things that fly above the vessels, things that go under the water.
A complex operating environment can be envisaged for the future, where not only are there surface vessels but at the same time aerial drones and maybe even ROVs as Singapore seeks to optimise the use of anchorage spaces and port areas.