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Press article: Singapore strives to put safety first

News & Insights 17 September 2014

Singapore's drive on improving maritime safety

At the end of July the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) rolled out an industry wide campaign to promote a safety-first culture at sea. The Standard Club's Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention contributed to a recent article on this topic published in IHS Maritime Fairplay. The full magazine article can be found below and on the IHS Maritime Fairplay website. A copy of the issue is placed on the right hand side of this page. The article is on page 10 and 11.

Singapore strives to put safety first

The maritime authority pushes harder to reduce collisions in ever busier waters, reports Titus Zheng

Singapore is the midst of a drive to improve maritime safety culture in the Strait of Singapore, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

At the end of July the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) rolled out an industry-wide campaign to promote a safety-first culture at sea.

“Singapore is the world’s busiest port in terms of vessel arrival tonnage and is located along a vital shipping lane and one of the world’s busiest waterways,” noted Andrew Tan, chief executive of MPA.

The port of Singapore sees more than 130,000 vessels call annually, a figure expected to rise in line with growing trade between the Asia Pacific region and the rest of the world.

The port also tranships almost half of the world’s supply of crude oil and one-fifth of its shipping containers.

Despite the ceaseless flow of cargoes and busy marine traffic, the number of major incidents over 2011-13 has remained low, with a yearly average of 0.012 incidents per1,000 vessel movements in the port and 0.016 in the strait, respectively.

There were 13 major incidents in 2011, eight in 2012, and six in 2013. Major incidents are those that involve loss of life, injuries, ferry or passenger ship mishaps, disruption to terminal or port operations and oil or chemical spills that require inter-agency co-operation to clean up.

There were three major incidents in the first half of this year involving spillage of bunker fuel into the sea. However, vessel traffic in the Strait of Singapore and port waters was unaffected by the incidents and the clean-up operations were conducted quickly.

Since then, the MPA has been has engaged with various parts of the shipping sector to ensure safety of navigation in Singapore’s waters and has worked closely with the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) to take immediate steps to raise the level of awareness.

Patrick Phoon, president of the association, said: “I have full confidence that my members will heed this urgent call to do their utmost to emphasise to their ships’ masters and crew members to exercise vigilance at all times.”

He recognised that most incidents could be prevented if navigators adopted safety best practice and said most collisions occurred due to human error.

His views are echoed by Muhammad Segar, assistant chief executive of MPA, who told IHS Maritime that seafarer behaviour played a crucial role in marine traffic safety.

“We are open to the industry for suggestions on improvement of the safety culture at sea,” he said. “Most accidents [at sea] are human behavioural in nature and we like to look at even near-misses and minor cases of ship contacts to instil a safety mindset in seafarers.”

A maritime source told IHS Maritime about collisions that have taken place in anchorages off Singapore. Three vessels were said to have made slight contact at anchorage while their situation was aggravated by poor weather conditions and strong water currents.

Segar conceded that nobody can control weather conditions at sea, but seafarers can choose to keep safe distances between ships in anchorages. Thus, inter-ship communications would be vital in such cases.

Yves Vandenborn, director of loss prevention at Standard P&I Club, noted that even where there was communication there could still be problems.

“The shipping community is very international and not all speak English as their native tongue,” said Vandenborn, a master mariner with extensive senior experience on LPG/LNG vessels. “Navigation officers these days have a tendency to negotiate manoeuvres over VHF with other ships, instead of following the rules of the road. Communication barriers and background chatter will cause misunderstandings and increase the risk of collisions.”

By receiving clear messages from ships and vessel traffic control, seafarers can shield themselves from ambiguous instructions and make the right navigation decision.

Another factor was cited by Deepak Mehra, master of NYK Oceanus. He said pilots “are often late to guide the vessels in port waters”. If the pilots are not on time to guide the vessels, masters such as Mehra have to rely on vessel traffic control instructions on conditions and ship placement. However, vessel traffic control may be unfamiliar with the situation at the anchorage and unaware of ship types and sizes with regard to manoeuvrability in tight spaces.

“Vessel traffic control needs to have basic navigation knowledge and identify smaller vessels to clear the way for big ships to move and turn,” Mehra said.

His comments drew on a ship contact incident that involved his company, NYK Line, on 30 January this year.

A Panama-flagged container ship, NYK Themis, collided with a barge, AZ Fuzhou, at East Keppel Fairway, around 4km south of Marina South, while the barge was being towed by the tug
AZ Carnation.

MPA’s port operations control centre had informed NYK Themis of the presence of AZ Fuzhou in the fairway.

As a result of this incident, NYK Line has adopted firmer internal controls, including having two duty officers on the bridge for ship navigation near port waters, and has issued constant reminders on safety checks and practices.

Mehra said the MPA could look to other ports and waterways for examples of how to improve marine traffic control.

“In Hong Kong, ships will be asked to follow a patrol boat [when] navigating in the port waters,” he said. “In the Suez Canal, queue sequences are given to vessels, and even the speed – one ship will travel at 6kt, another at 8kt and so on, to keep safety distances.”


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