Changi dock's days may be numbered

Cigarette smuggling case puts spotlight on security loophole

The dock just beside Changi Point Ferry Terminal is used by Singapore and Malaysian fish farmers to unload their haul. Pulau Ubin residents also use it to transport bulky items.
The dock just beside Changi Point Ferry Terminal is used by Singapore and Malaysian fish farmers to unload their haul. Pulau Ubin residents also use it to transport bulky items. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

The authorities are considering closing the dock beside Changi Point Ferry Terminal in the wake of a recent case of cigarette smuggling, The Straits Times has learnt.

The dock, located along Changi Creek, is used by Singapore and Malaysian fish farmers who come in every morning with their boats filled with live seafood.

The fish and prawn hauls are hoisted with rope or lorries with mechanical crane arms over a sea wall and onto the waiting trucks of restaurant suppliers. Residents of Pulau Ubin also use the dock to transport bulky items.

Fish farmers said they were told at a meeting with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) last week that it is considering closing the dock over "national security and safety concerns".

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This includes concerns over how the dock - essentially a raised platform with a moveable rail on the sea wall - could be used as a smuggling conduit for cigarettes, narcotics and pets, for example.

The lack of a proper berthing area and high platform level were also cited as safety risks, according to PowerPoint presentation slides seen by The Straits Times. It is not known if any accident has occurred at the site before.

"AVA told us they wanted to close the dock within the next two to three months because someone was caught smuggling cigarettes there recently," said Mr Phillip Lim, 54, a Changi fish farmer who was at the AVA meeting. He said about 50 fish farms in the area use the dock to transport produce.

In July, Singapore Customs officers intercepted a lorry in Bukit Batok and found 15,960 packets of duty-unpaid cigarettes in styrofoam boxes. Investigations showed the cigarettes were loaded at Changi Creek from a boat registered to a coastal fish farm. Four men and a woman were arrested by Singapore Customs and the Police Coast Guard for suspected involvement.

Mr Lim said the AVA suggested two alternative locations for fish farmers to use should the Changi facility be closed: the Lorong Halus jetty near Punggol and the Senoko Fishery Port in Admiralty.

While these locations offer facilities for mooring, loading and unloading, fish farmers say they have none of the amenities of Changi, such as hawker centres, coffee shops and provision shops.

Mr Ong Tian Huat, 60, who runs a fish farm a five-minute boat ride from Changi, said: "It will take me about two hours to reach Senoko. By then, all the fish would have died. Fuel costs will also go up."

He also said fish farmers who use the dock have taken measures such as hiring a security firm to send a guard to patrol the area from 7am to 7pm. He added: "If national security is truly a concern, the authorities should consider getting a policeman to patrol the area as well."

Pulau Ubin residents who use the dock to transport bulky items were dismayed to hear that it may close.

Ms Chew York Kuan, 55, one of the island's 37 residents, said the dock is important for business. She runs the family-owned Chew Teck Seng Provision Shop with her siblings. "We are not sure what our options are - if we have to use the passenger ferry terminal, we will have to hire more workers to carry the items up and down the steps," said Ms Chew in Mandarin. "If that happens, our costs will go up, and we may have to pass it on to the customers, who may complain."

Mr Lim said that instead of closing the dock, the authorities could install more closed-circuit television cameras and implement a neighbourhood watch system.

When asked, the authorities stated: "Due to the heightened security climate, various agencies such as AVA and Police Coast Guard are working together to engage stakeholders (for example, coastal fish farmers, fish traders, etc) on the security measures to be deployed at Changi Creek. (Their) feedback will be taken into consideration."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2016, with the headline Changi dock's days may be numbered. Subscribe