The Straits Times says

Catching the tide in sea transport

Staying ahead of the competition in an industry that suffers from excess capacity and price wars is tough, but that is precisely what Singapore's maritime sector, centred on its transhipment port, must do. Acknowledging this, an ambitious plan to help the sector navigate rough seas is set out in the Industry Transformation Map. The goal is to grow the sector's value-add by $4.5 billion and create over 5,000 good jobs by 2025. This effort is vital as the maritime industry as a whole employs more than 170,000 people and contributes 7 per cent to the economy. Last year, container throughput at the port in Singapore rose 8.9 per cent to 33.7 million, making it the world's top container transhipment hub.

No hub can afford to rest on its laurels as the pressure to find ever shorter sea routes and smarter, faster ways to move goods from where they are produced to where they are consumed is relentless. There is also intense competition from regional ports stretching from Malaysia to Shanghai. To stay ahead, Singapore must be dogged in exploiting technology and other means to boost its logistics capabilities. It calls for widespread acceptance of "real and deep transformation over the next few years", as Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min put it, so that new growth opportunities can be captured.

Expanding the sector's value-add will be key to ensuring Singapore remains a global maritime hub prized for connectivity, innovation and talent. Only a combination of human skills upgrading and the managerial ability to work with radical new technology will make the transformation map viable. Key to this ongoing endeavour is the multibillion-dollar Tuas project, which will, when completed, increase the port's capacity to 65 million TEUs (20ft equivalent units) of cargo - more than double what was handled last year.

This expansion is the latest in a series of bold moves to grow Singapore's port by building ahead of demand. Indeed, Singapore might have been too cautious in the past in planning infrastructural projects to catch a rising tide. Now, the thinking behind the Tuas megaport is that it is impossible to consistently ensure that just enough capacity is available at the right time. Instead, projects must be ready to benefit from rising tides as global demand recovers from a period of stagnation.

Tuas is set to be not just huge but also efficient and intelligent, harnessing emerging technologies and data analytics to optimise operations. While the Government has both the resolve and resources to invest in the infrastructure and tools to keep Singapore's port competitive, the challenge - as faced by other sectors experiencing disruption - is to help workers adapt to change and to upgrade their skills to meet the needs of a 21st century port in a fast-changing world.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2018, with the headline 'Catching the tide in sea transport'. Print Edition | Subscribe