Late shipping magnate Frank Tsao was a longstanding and good friend to Singapore: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Mr Tsao was founding chairman of Suntec City Development and led the consortium of Hong Kong companies that built Suntec City. PHOTO: IMC GROUP

SINGAPORE - The late shipping magnate Tan Sri Frank Tsao was a longstanding and good friend to Singapore, and played a big part in developing capability and attracting talent to the maritime industry, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (Aug 15).

"A respected leader in the shipping industry, Frank regularly advised the Government on our maritime industry policies. He was a firm believer in Singapore's potential," he wrote in a condolence letter to Mr Tsao's son Frederick.

Mr Tsao died in Singapore on Monday at the age of 94.

He had moved the operational headquarters of the International Maritime Carriers (IMC) Group from Hong Kong to Singapore in 1991.

This gave Singapore a boost at a time when it was planning to invest in the expansion of its port capacity, PM Lee said in his letter.

Mr Tsao also supported the establishment of the Centre for Maritime Studies at the National University of Singapore, and helped set up the permanent secretariat of the Asian Shipowners Forum here.

"Through these efforts, he boosted our plans to grow Singapore into a leading international maritime centre," PM Lee added.

Mr Tsao was also founding chairman of Suntec City Development, and led the consortium of Hong Kong companies that built Suntec City.

He and his team made Suntec a vibrant centre of commerce and a hub for meetings, conventions and exhibitions, PM Lee said.

"It was a major investment, and a strong statement of their confidence in Singapore."

In 1996, Singapore successfully hosted the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference at Suntec City - just a year after its opening.

"Frank instructed his team to give the conference full support, and personally checked on progress," PM Lee said. "Many delegations left with a favourable impression of Singapore, because Frank and his team were generous with their hospitality."

Mr Tsao's late mother, Mrs Tsao Ng Yu Shun, set up the non-profit Tsao Foundation in 1993 to help seniors in Singapore stay healthy and independent. The foundation is now chaired by his daughter, Dr Mary Ann Tsao.

PM Lee said that beyond shipping and real estate, Mr Tsao contributed greatly to Singapore through the foundation, which has provided care and support for many elderly people in Singapore and partners the Government to implement active ageing initiatives.

"Frank has made many contributions to our community over the years," PM Lee said, noting that Mr Tsao was made an honorary Singapore citizen in 2008 - the highest honour that can be given to a non-Singaporean.

"We considered him one of us."

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan also made a Facebook post expressing his condolences to Mr Tsao's family.

"He was always generous with his advice on how to grow Maritime Singapore, linking us to important business networks, pointing out emerging opportunities and suggesting how we could turn them to benefit Singapore," said Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure.

"He was optimistic about Singapore's future and invested significantly."

In the post, Mr Khaw recounted how he was Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry when the 1996 WTO conference took place.

"This was to be the largest gathering of global leaders, and we wanted to ensure a spectacular conference with serious meaningful outcomes," he said.

At the same time, they also wanted to impress the foreign leaders and delegations with "Singapore's style of efficiency, service excellence, multi-racial heritage and a great garden city", he added.

Mr Tsao, who was chairman of Suntec City, was mindful that a successful conference would make a significant contribution to free trade.

"He took a personal interest, going many extra miles to work with us, to upgrade the Suntec facilities beyond what was specified in our contract," Mr Khaw said. "He was not just a business partner, he was a great friend of Singapore!"

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