President Tan briefed on Arctic issues in Norway

From left: University of Tromso rector Anne Husebekk, Mrs Mary Tan, King Harald V of Norway, President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Non-Resident Ambassador to Norway Ng Ser Miang in the ship navigation simulator at the University of Tromso, Norway, yesterda
From left: University of Tromso rector Anne Husebekk, Mrs Mary Tan, King Harald V of Norway, President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Non-Resident Ambassador to Norway Ng Ser Miang in the ship navigation simulator at the University of Tromso, Norway, yesterday. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

The Arctic region is half a world away from Singapore, yet what happens there can affect the Republic's coastal environment and impact its status as a maritime hub.

Yesterday, President Tony Tan Keng Yam was briefed on Arctic issues by researchers and experts in Tromso, Norway's Arctic capital.

Dr Tan and his wife, Mrs Mary Tan, were accompanied by Norway's King Harald V and Tromso Mayor Kristin Roymo.

Ms Roymo said: "It's very important that the President is visiting Tromso, especially because Tromso is very important for the Arctic.

"Tromso and Singapore differ when it comes to geography and temperature, but somehow we are also alike when it comes to the... importance of the oceans to society, to people, to wealth and the maritime sector."

Dr Tan also visited the University of Tromso (UiT), the world's northernmost university which focuses on research of the Arctic region.

He was given a demonstration of a UiT ship simulator and briefed about marine bio-prospecting, a scientific field aimed at extracting useful substances from ocean organisms, which can in turn be used to make drugs or enzymes, for instance.

He was also hosted at the university's Saami cultural house, called the Ardna, where he met UiT students of Saami origin.

The Saami are an Arctic indigenous community who inhabit the area of Sapmi, which today encompasses parts of far northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia's Kola Peninsula. They have their own traditional languages, flag and national day.

In the afternoon, Dr Tan went on board the UiT's research vessel, Helmer Hanssen, for over an hour. During the excursion, he was briefed on climate change in the Arctic by the director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, Jan-Gunnar Winther.

King Harald V bade farewell to Dr Tan after the vessel excursion.

Dr Tan is on a six-day state visit to Norway, the first by a Singapore head of state to the Scandinavian country.

Singapore takes a keen interest in Arctic matters, and it became a permanent observer on the Arctic Council from 2013. The Republic's bid to join the council was supported by Norway.

The melting of the polar ice caps can result in sea levels rising in Singapore, a low-lying island.

This phenomenon also affects the Republic's position as a maritime hub, as vessels from Europe will be able to take a new route eastwards via the Arctic. This would cut travel time in half compared to the journey through the Suez Canal and Singapore.

UiT is no stranger to the Republic, having collaborated with the National University of Singapore (NUS) last year to organise a conference on issues relating to shipping in the Arctic. The International Conference on the Governance of Arctic Shipping was jointly run by UiT's K. G. Jebsen Centre for the Law of the Sea and the NUS Centre for International Law.

Dr Tan was also scheduled to host a reception for Norwegian and Singapore academics and researchers in Tromso yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2016, with the headline 'President Tan briefed on Arctic issues in Norway'. Print Edition | Subscribe