RSS Independence evokes memories for retired officer

1st Warrant Officer (Ret) Kalvinder Singh, who was a naval combat system specialist on board the first patrol craft RSS Independence in the 1970s, says he feels proud to hear the name again.
1st Warrant Officer (Ret) Kalvinder Singh, who was a naval combat system specialist on board the first patrol craft RSS Independence in the 1970s, says he feels proud to hear the name again.

Hearing the name RSS Independence once again yesterday, as the navy's first littoral mission vessel (LMV) was commissioned, 1st Warrant Officer (Ret) Kalvinder Singh felt a profound sense of pride.

For the 65-year-old retired naval officer, the name carries two years of memories of a tough but fulfilling life patrolling Singapore's seas on board the first patrol craft RSS Independence, as a naval combat system specialist from 1973.

"The name is very close to my heart. After so many years, the fact that the name Independence still exists in the navy - I feel really proud to hear it again," he said.

The patrol craft, one of six pioneer warships bought by the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) in 1968, was the first naval vessel named Independence. The second was a patrol vessel commissioned on Aug 22, 1998.

Yesterday, the name lived on in the newly commissioned first-of- class LMV, locally designed and built by the RSN and the Defence Science and Technology Agency.

Compared with the RSS Independence of today, life on the patrol craft back then was tough, said 1WO (Ret) Singh, who now works in property management.

"There were very few ships, so we had to do a lot of patrolling out at sea. We could spend four days out at sea, and, on the way back home, they would tell us to continue patrolling again," he said.

But despite the long spells at sea, he enjoyed the thrill and excitement of each deployment.

One memorable incident was the Laju ferry hijacking in 1974, when the RSS Independence was placed on standby in harbour in Pulau Brani. For a few days, 1WO (Ret) Singh and his crew had to live on the patrol craft, not knowing when or whether they would be deployed.

During the crisis, he said, they were in a state of uncertainty, not knowing what would happen. "We were waiting for directions from HQ on whether to go or not to go," said 1WO (Ret) Singh, adding that they were not deployed in the end.

He also served on missile gunboats and a County-class landing ship tank during his 37-year naval career, which ended with his retirement in 2007.

If given the chance now, he said, he would choose to serve on a navy ship again in a heartbeat.

"To be on board a ship with a crew who all worked in a team together - that was one of the most beautiful things (in my life)."

Charmaine Ng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2017, with the headline 'RSS Independence evokes memories for retired officer'. Print Edition | Subscribe