Alarm over three ship collisions in two months in Singapore's waters

Workers carting away oil-tainted sand on St John’s Island on Feb 4, 2014. The three collisions that occurred this year dumped a total of 760 tonnes of oil into the sea. -- ST FILE PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Workers carting away oil-tainted sand on St John’s Island on Feb 4, 2014. The three collisions that occurred this year dumped a total of 760 tonnes of oil into the sea. -- ST FILE PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Safety measures tightened, following unusual spike in incidents

Less than two months into the year, three ship collisions have already occurred in Singapore's waters - compared to the usual one or two for a whole year.

This has prompted the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) to beef up safety measures. The collisions occurred between Jan 29 and Feb 10, and dumped a total of 760 tonnes of oil into the sea.

There was one collision in 2009, one in 2010, none in 2011, two in 2012 and two in 2013, the MPA told The Straits Times.

It is investigating the latest incidents and declined to comment on them, but a spokesman said it has launched an inquiry into whether there are any "systemic issues" that need to be addressed.

Previous collisions were mostly due to human error, such as failing to keep a proper lookout or signal movement intentions properly, the MPA said.

It has introduced precautionary measures, including briefings to reinforce the importance of navigational safety. The first was held last Thursday for more than 100 shipowners, shipping agents and others in the industry, in direct response to the three collisions. Safety announcements will be broadcast to ships over radio.

A safety guide for vessels navigating the Malacca Strait and Singapore Strait is also being developed in collaboration with Malaysia, Indonesia and shipping association Bimco (Baltic and International Maritime Council), highlighting possible hazards.

MPA's chief executive officer Andrew Tan said the agency was "gravely concerned" about the recent incidents.

Still, Captain Teoh Woi Khon, senior consultant at shipping firm Global Maritime and Port Services, told The Straits Times: "Considering the high volume of traffic, the accident rate is relatively low compared to many other busy ports in the world."

The number of vessels arriving here rose 6.9 per cent last year to 139,417, from the previous year. While not a record high, the total tonnage was the highest in at least a decade, according to MPA statistics. This means there are now more and bigger container ships, bulk carriers and tankers.

The vice-president of claims for ship insurer Skuld Singapore, Mr Christian Ott, said ships should travel at safe speeds to avoid collisions.

He said: "Timely steps to appropriately adjust speed, especially in potentially uncertain circumstances with relation to other traffic, can help to avoid collisions or help to mitigate the situation."

waltsim@sph.com.sg

caiwj@sph.com.sg