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Interview with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore - Port of the Year 2019

December 12, 2019
Port of Singapore 2
Seafarers Sports Carnival organised by MPA for seafarers to take a short break from their routine at sea

The Port of Singapore was named Port of the Year at the International Seafarers’ Welfare Awards 2019 in September. This is testament to the efforts of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) which works closely with partners in welfare services to make sure seafarers can maximise their time in port, providing an on-demand bus service, drop-in centres for seafarers and sightseeing tours of Singapore for those with limited time there. We spoke to Mr. Goh Chung Hun, Director (Shipping) at MPA, after our awards ceremony.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.

As the Director (Shipping) in MPA, I lead and manage the Shipping Division to support MPA's mission of developing and promoting Singapore as an international Maritime Centre. This also includes advancing and safeguarding Singapore’s strategic maritime interests in all areas pertaining to international shipping.

The primary role and responsibility of the MPA’s Shipping Division is to ensure the safety and security of the Singapore Registered Ships and to promote and maintain the Singapore Registry of Ships as a major quality flag State. However, apart from formulating and ensuring standards on ships, we also recognise the importance of human elements in shipping. The Seafarer’s Management Department within the Shipping Division, for instance, formulates and enforces standards on safe manning and employment conditions on board Singapore ships.

Singapore is also a major hub port with almost 1,000 ships in the port at any one time. In the Shipping Division, we also look at our seafarers’ welfare and work closely with industry partners to oversee shore-based welfare facilities and run various recreational activities/events for seafarers visiting Port of Singapore.

What effect has winning the Port of the Year award had on the port?

MPA is honoured that the Port of Singapore clinched the Port of the Year award for 2019. We understand that this is the first time in the awards’ history where winners are selected by the seafarers. We are heartened that seafarers value MPA’s efforts in meeting their unique needs when they call at the Port of Singapore.

The award is also a recognition of the efforts and hard work of our partners such as the seafarer missions, unions and terminal operators, who have been working closely with us.

This award is an affirmation of our efforts and provides motivation for us, as we strive to provide even better facilities and services for seafarers, in tandem with the improvement and development of port operations in the future.

One of the welfare programmes and year-round recreational activities organised by MPA for visiting seafarers

Why is the role of ports so important in seafarers’ welfare?

Seafarers are usually out at sea for long periods, away from their families and friends. It is important for ports of call to enable seafarers to communicate with home, as well as to facilitate their recuperation away from the ship. It is recognised that higher levels of port operations efficiency leads to shorter layovers in ports for seafarers. This, in turn, means that seafarers have a tighter window of time to reach shore-based welfare facilities and much-needed services in between voyages and port-calls. Unlike shore-based employees, the workplace of seafarers is also the after-work space. Hence, every minute in port is a chance for seafarers to have access to a space outside of their workplace environment.

The work of seafarers and their roles in facilitating world trade that makes it possible for the bulk transfer of vital raw materials, affordable food and manufactured goods. The nature of seafaring is such that seafarers face hard and challenging conditions. What MPA and the rest of the partners in Singapore such as the seafarers’ missions and the unions can provide to the seafarers for bringing the thousands of ships to Singapore that makes Singapore the successful hub port it is today, is a small token of our appreciation of seafarers. The rest of the industry also plays their part, such as through the contributions of companies that have their vessels calling the Port of Singapore, as they contribute to the Maritime Welfare Fees (MWF). The MWF provide seafarers with shore-based welfare facilities and services, including seafarer accommodation, training and activities to promote their welfare.

Recognising that seafarers visiting Singapore may have short layovers resulting from short turnaround of their ships, MPA organises learning journeys that bring visiting seafarers to places of interests in Singapore and sports activities such as sports carnival, futsal and bowling for these seafarers. MPA conducts these tours regularly throughout the year and the tours are available to all visiting seafarers. Meals and sports gear are also provided during the tours.

MPA organises learning tours that take seafarers with short layovers in port to places of interests in Singapore

What advice would you have for other port authorities wanting to make their ports a welcoming and accessible place for seafarers?

I would advise to take a collaborative approach with all parties and stakeholders in ensuring the well-being of visiting seafarers. Each stakeholder has a part to play. Stakeholders can pool and coordinate efforts and resources. These can include being close to the ground to have access to feedback and getting an accurate sense of the needs of seafarers.

In Singapore, there are various organisations such as the seafarers’ missions and the maritime unions that have been actively working alongside MPA to meet the needs of seafarers so that they can better maximise their time in port. MPA, together with port terminal operators Jurong Port (JP) and PSA Corporation (PSAC), takes a collaborative approach in this aspect. Both JP and PSAC made space available for the drop-in centres in each of the ports while balancing operational safety considerations.

MPA also works closely with seafarers’ missions and maritime unions to run the seafarer drop-in centres. There are currently four drop-in centres, conveniently located within the various terminals in the Port of Singapore and provide free WiFi, computers with internet and telephone service for seafarers to get in touch with their family and friends. The Singapore Organisation of Seamen (SOS) also started providing on-demand shuttle bus services in the Pasir Panjang Terminal last year, where seafarers can call and book the free shuttle bus service to where the drop-in centre is located. This is an additional option for seafarers, on top of the scheduled free bus service provided by terminal operator, PSAC. MPA also supports the various efforts of seafarers’ missions and maritime unions through avenues such as fund raising charity dinners and festive celebrations.

MPA and partners during the opening of the new seafarers’ drop-in centre at Pasir Panjang Terminal Building 5 in June this year

A Committee for Seafarer Welfare (SWC) was established in 1996. Its members consist of representatives from MPA, JP, PSAC, the Singapore maritime unions and the seafarers’ missions in Singapore – collectively working together in a tripartite collaboration when it comes to seafarers’ interest. The SWC meets regularly to review and make recommendations to improve and enhance Singapore’s shore-based services, facilities and activities for seafarers. These are longstanding efforts that Singapore have in place even before MPA was formed in 1997. We are heartened to see that these have since been enshrined as obligations in the texts of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) of the International Labour Organization as, of which Singapore is one of the first member states in Asia to ratify it in 2013.

Even then, provision of welfare facilities and services to seafarers is but just one facet of ensuring that seafaring career remains attractive to secure the talents to sustain quality shipping to keep the world in motion. Education and training is the other important facet that is key to keep the world maritime ecosystems going. The same partners such as the unions that provides welfare facilities and services are also actively involved in collaborations on various bursaries and scholarships programmes for seafarers and their children. There is a wide range of stakeholders who have a stake in ensuring the seafaring manpower pool continues to sustain and cope with the demands of international shipping. Working hand-in-hand with each doing their part helps to achieve this common objective to be sustainable.

What plans does the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore have for the future?

In preparation for the new Tuas Port, the Singapore Seafarers Welfare Committee has started conceptualising and planning of space and services to enhance the experience of seafarers when they sign on/off ships or transiting through Singapore.

While the Tuas Port is being developed and built in phases, one of the transitional steps include the opening of a new seafarers’ drop-in centre at Pasir Panjang Terminal Building 5 in June this year to meet the demand of seafarers, as operations ramp up at the Pasir Panjang Container Terminal. The new drop-in centre opens daily from 10am till 10pm and provides a wide-range of facilities and services that benefits about 20,000 visiting seafarers who call at Pasir Panjang Terminal every month. These include free WiFi, computers with internet, telephone service, light refreshments, reading materials, TV, money changing services, souvenir and sundry shops and on -demand shuttle service.

As one of the world’s busiest hub ports, MPA will continue to plan ahead to cope with increasing demands and needs of all port users including the seafarers, and work with our partners to provide seafarers with access to quality shore-based welfare.

For more information about the Port of Singapore, visit mpa.gov.sg/web/portal/home/port-of-singapore.

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