Saturday, 19 Sep 2020

Port resilient amid Covid-19 pandemic as container throughput remains robust

Unlike Changi Airport, the sea port of Singapore has been more resilient amid the Covid-19 pandemic as it stays open to the movement of container boxes of cargo.

Container throughput in the first half of this year has remained robust compared with the same period last year, dipping to 17.8 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) against 18 million TEUs in the first half of last year, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said yesterday.

It also said that the building of Tuas Port is being done in four distinct phases for greater flexibility in its development timeline. It is scheduled to be fully completed in the 2040s.

MPA’s spokesman added that it will continue to review the timeline, “taking into account Singapore’s needs and the growth in sea trade”.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, in his National Day address to his staff, gave no hint of a slowdown in the construction of Tuas port.

There had been questions raised recently over the project’s timeline amid the pandemic, including a letter to The Straits Times Forum page which said there could be a need to “recalibrate the construction of this port by perhaps slowing it down by a few years or even scaling the project down” as Covid-19 reduces sea trade.

When ready, Tuas, billed as the next-generation port, will handle up to 65 million TEUs yearly.

Singapore’s port authority, anticipating a drop in volume this year, will respond nimbly to capture new opportunities in areas like e-commerce, and invest in its competitive advantage, Mr Ong said.

While geography has played a crucial role, the Singapore port has thrived also because of the opportunities seized along the way. “We built on our dynamic port and generated many other complementary industries, in shipping, ship finance, marine insurance, maritime legal, maritime logistics,” he said.

Today, each main haul ship that arrives here typically transfers its containers to 100 other ships, before taking on containers from another 200 ships.

“So, each main haul ship calling at Singapore presents 20,000 connections. This is what it means to be an interchange of the sea,” he added.

With land transport, it costs a lot to maintain and operate it – especially the MRT system – but an attractive public transport system brings about “a greener, fairer and better Singapore”, Mr Ong said.

“We devote a lot of resources to land transport,” he noted. “It also costs a lot to maintain and operate the system, and renew ageing operating assets.”

He added: “Fare revenue is insufficient to cover these operational expenses. The Government has been spending $2 billion every year to subsidise the running of the public transport system.”

But an attractive public transport system will help Singapore move towards a car-lite nation, he said.

Especially significant is the vast improvement in train service reliability in recent years. Before, 30 per cent of SMRT’s maintenance efforts were devoted to preventive maintenance, and 70 per cent to corrective maintenance.

Today, the ratio has flipped, Mr Ong said, adding: “We must continue to place maintenance and engineering as a top priority.”

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