The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and PSA Corporation are rolling out measures to help container lines tide over the difficult times, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.
The MPA will grant an additional 10 per cent concession on port dues for container vessels calling at the Port of Singapore if their loading or unloading is completed within five days, he said.
The one-year concession, which starts tomorrow, will be granted on top of existing concessions such as the Green Port Programme incentives and the 20 per cent concession introduced in 1996 - all of which are expected to "amount to savings of about $17 million annually for container lines", said Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure.
Mr Khaw told the annual Singapore Maritime Foundation New Year reception that PSA is "putting in significantly more resources" to help its customers through this period. These include efforts to improve vessel productivity at the port and optimise network planning activity to cut operational costs.
Many shipping firms found that 2015 was "yet another challenging year", said Mr Khaw. "Demand for shipping remained weak due to sluggish trade growth. Coupled with an oversupply in tonnage, freight rates have stayed low."
Citing advance estimates, he noted that the Port of Singapore put in a mixed performance.While the volume of bunkers sold in 2015 grew 6.5 per cent over the previous year, container throughput contracted 8.7 per cent to 30.9 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).
"This was largely caused by the overall slump in Asia-Europe volumes, and compounded by developments such as the rebalancing of volumes across alliances and an increase in direct sailings to lower bunker prices," he noted.
Singapore's closest rival, Shanghai, retained its top spot as the world's busiest container port after recording a 3.5 per cent increase in throughput to 36.5 million TEUs, according to figures from Shanghai International Port (Group).
CIMB Private Bank economist Song Seng Wun told The Straits Times tough times lie ahead still for Singapore's maritime sector, given how deeply it is plugged into the global economy. "It's all about external trade. We need to see a pick-up in global demand, without which the maritime sector could continue to be a drag on Singapore's economy."
Still, Mr Khaw gave his assurance yesterday that the Government will continue "to keep working on the long-term development of Maritime Singapore".
The MPA, for instance, will "press ahead in its collaboration with PSA to further raise the efficiency of our port operations by investing in automation and other new technologies", he said. It will also develop a manpower plan for the sea transport sector under the SkillsFuture framework, as part of its efforts to strengthen Singapore's position as an international maritime centre.
Three new SkillsFuture Earn and Learn programmes for the maritime sector will be rolled out by June.
Last night's event at the ParkRoyal on Pickering also saw the inauguration of the new Singapore Maritime Foundation board. Mr Andreas Sohmen-Pao, chairman of global shipping company BW Group, was appointed as chairman, taking over from Mr Michael Chia, managing director of marine and technology at Keppel Offshore & Marine.