2017 Yearender: Shocks and surprises

SMRT officials examining the two trains which had collided at Joo Koon MRT station on Nov 15, 2017. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO
(Clockwise, from top left) Joo Koon MRT Station, where two trains collided in November; The home of the late former PM Lee Kuan Yew, at 38, Oxley Road; Graffiti on a wall in Marawi during the siege; and far-right leaders Marine Le Pen, Tomio Okamura and Geert Wilders at a press conference in Prague. PHOTOS: ST FILE, REUTERS, EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE - 2017 brought a year of shock and surprises to Singaporeans, with several events here and overseas grabbing the headlines.

SMRT was thrust in the spotlight after it was hit by several high-profile incidents, including flooding in an MRT tunnel and lapses in maintenance, while the Oxley Road saga saw Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his two siblings embroiled in a public family row that stunned a nation.

Abroad, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's grip has been shaken, with the military declaring victory over large parts of the southern Philippine city of Marawi.

The Straits Times looks back at these stories:


SMRT's track, train and power faults: Bumpy ride

Two SMRT trains had collided at Joo Koon MRT station during the morning peak hour on Nov 15, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE

With a de-listing that relieved the company of shareholder pressure, and the Government buying over its operating assets last year, SMRT was poised to ride into this year in good shape.

The first major renewal effort for the North-South and East-West lines - to replace track sleepers - had been completed by the end of last year, a power-rail replacement project would finish by August, and the North-South Line would transit to a new signalling system promising shorter train intervals.


Oxley Road saga: Family feud stuns nation

The home of late former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, at 38, Oxley Road. PHOTO: ST FILE

While most Singaporeans were fast asleep on June 14, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's siblings posted a statement on Facebook saying they had lost confidence in him.

The 2am post on both Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang's Facebook pages brought a simmering family row out into the open, with accusations and counter-accusations that left a nation stunned, saddened and bewildered.

The quarrel was over the family house at 38, Oxley Road.


USS John S. McCain collision: Incident ignites questions about navigational safety

The USS John S. McCain was left with a vast hole in its hull, after being involved in a collision with oil tanker Alnic MC in the Singapore Strait on Aug 21. PHOTO: ST FILE

An American naval destroyer with advanced navigational systems on board would be expected to traverse safely in one of the world's busiest but also most monitored waterways.

But on Aug 21, many were shocked to hear that United States missile-guided destroyer USS John S. McCain had collided with Liberian-flagged oil tanker Alnic MC in the Singapore Strait. The incident resulted in the death of 10 US sailors and was one of the worst naval accidents ever to occur in Singapore waters.


PIE viaduct collapse​: 'No sound, no warning, and it fell'

A 40m section of a viaduct on the PIE collapsed on July 14, leaving a tangled mess of bars and broken concrete at a construction site adjacent to a slip road in Upper Changi Road East. PHOTO: ST FILE

When residents of Block 638 in Tampines looked outside their windows on the morning of July 14, they saw a scene of devastation.

A 40m section of a viaduct on the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) had collapsed, leaving a tangled mess of bars and broken concrete in a construction site adjacent to a slip road in Upper Changi Road East.


Cladding woes​: Combustible panels on buildings here

A 54-year-old woman died in the fire that engulfed an industrial building in Jurong in May. PHOTO: ST FILE

In June, thousands watched as the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in London burned - overwhelming emergency responders and killing 71 of its occupants.

Few watching in Singapore knew, however, that the disaster would later cast a spotlight on investigations into an incident that took place here a month earlier.


Singapore-China relations: From cool to cosy

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting at The Great Hall Of The People in Beijing on Sept 20. Singapore's ties with China improved after PM Lee's meeting with President Xi and three other members of the apex
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting at The Great Hall Of The People in Beijing on Sept 20. Singapore's ties with China improved after PM Lee's meeting with President Xi and three other members of the apex Politburo Standing Committee. PHOTO: REUTERS

When world leaders gathered in Beijing in May for the inaugural Belt and Road Forum presided over by Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was noticeably absent.

He was one of three Asean leaders who were not invited - the other two were Thailand and Brunei's leaders - an unexpected development which some observers viewed as China indicating its displeasure with Singapore.

The episode was one of several turns this year in the relationship between the two countries. Ties have since warmed up, especially after PM Lee visited Beijing on the eve of the Chinese Communist Party's 19th national congress in September.


Naming of WWII gallery: Use of 'Syonan' brings back painful memories

Before and after workers removed the word "Syonan" from the sign at the Former Ford Factory along Upper Bukit Timah Road in February.
Before and after workers removed the word "Syonan" from the sign at the Former Ford Factory along Upper Bukit Timah Road in February. PHOTOS: LIANHE ZAOBAO

As night fell on Feb 17, a group of workers started tearing down a large sign along Upper Bukit Timah Road bearing the words "Syonan Gallery".

The World War II exhibition was given a new name - Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies.

The name of the new exhibition at the Former Ford Factory building had been the subject of a week-long debate. The public had protested against it, arguing that it seemed to glorify a painful period in Singapore's past.



ISIS threat in S-E Asia: Takeover of Marawi

Militants held on to a fortified position inside Marawi City for five months, amid unrelenting air and land assaults by six army battalions. PHOTO: REUTERS

No one saw it coming.

What was supposed to be a routine police raid in May to capture the Philippines' most wanted terrorist turned into a bloody, five-month war with consequences now reverberating across Asia.


Rise of the far right: Europe's populists - deflected rather than defeated

Far-right leaders (from left) Marine Le Pen of France, Tomio Okamura of the Czech Republic and Geert Wilders of the Netherlands at a press conference in Prague last Saturday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

At the start of this year, few were optimistic about Europe's political outlook, for the continent seemed ripe for a takeover by populist or extremist politicians, seething with racial hatred and bent on reviving old nationalist disputes.

Ms Marine Le Pen of France's National Front kicked off her bid for the presidency with all the populist flourish which propelled Mr Donald Trump to the White House. Wherever she went, she was greeted by anti-immigrant chants of "This is our country". In the Netherlands, the far-right Party for Freedom led by Mr Geert Wilders was far ahead in the polls; his "There is no such thing as 'moderate Islam'" slogan was popular. In Europe's biggest country, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a nationalist anti-immigrant movement, seemed unstoppable.


Turbulence in the Middle East: Restive region

Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters confronting each other in Jerusalem's Old City last Friday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

As the year draws to a close, there is one bit of good news for the Middle East: the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terror group has been flushed out from its holdouts, its murderous grip over the region now over.

But just as ISIS' sudden rise took the region by surprise in 2014, this year saw several shocks of a different nature: several countries led by Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar; Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman staged a bold anti-graft purge; and US President Donald Trump declared his country's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.



Money talks, Neymar walks

In football, a club owner will sign a cheque for more money than the projected gross domestic product of the Marshall Islands (US$188 million or S$256 million) and Tuvalu (US$36 million) added together, just to buy a player.


A club and its millions

News of Tiong Bahru FC amassing millions in a year stuns public, raises questions and leads to probe.


Politics of sport

The leaked WhatsApp conversation appeared to show SA vice-president Govindasamy Balasekaran instructing staff to collect evidence so that disciplinary action would have to be taken against two local coaches. ST FILE PHOTO

Leaked WhatsApp messages shock sports fraternity as they reflect degree of hostility within SA's leadership.


Surprise wins sweeten Singapore's medal haul

Golfer Marc Ong celebrates after winning a sudden-death play-off in the SEA Games team event against regional powerhouse Thailand. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/THE MINES RESORT & GOLF CLUB

In a sea of numbers, one stood out this year in Kuala Lumpur. Five hundred and sixty national athletes went to the SEA Games and they won 58 golds, 58 silvers and 72 bronzes while setting 15 Games records, 13 national records, and 29 personal bests. And yet the number that resonates most is five.


Modern greats give the game retro feel

Roger Federer holding up Rafael Nadal as they celebrate a win for Team Europe at the Laver Cup tennis tournament in September. After more than six years, they occupy the game's top two spots again.PHOTO: REUTERS

Roger Federer turned to a familiar face for inspiration ahead of this year's season: Rafael Nadal.

The Swiss was recovering from a knee injury that had forced him to undergo surgery for the first time in his 18-year career. The Spaniard, often troubled by knee problems, was out with a wrist injury. Many expected their longest Grand Slam droughts - five and three years respectively - to continue. But Nadal's past gave Federer belief amid their uncertain tennis futures.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2017, with the headline 2017 Yearender: Shocks and surprises. Subscribe