Navy Museum set to undergo revamp, to reopen in August 2022

Indoor displays at the Navy Museum, prior to the revamp. Among other things, the museum’s new theme “Our Maritime Nation” will highlight “Singapore’s fundamental identity as a maritime nation”. PHOTO: REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE NAVY/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Singapore's Navy Museum is set to undergo a revamp that is set to be completed by August next year.

The museum will be redesigned to tell Singapore's larger maritime story, rather than the current format which centres more on the Navy's capabilities and history, according to procurement documents seen by The Straits Times.

Located in Changi Naval Base, the museum was opened in May 2012 to replace the Republic of Singapore Navy Museum that had stood in Sembawang Camp for 24 years.

The three-storey museum in Changi features both indoor and outdoor galleries, including artefacts like components salvaged from the Navy's early warships, as well as old guns and weapons systems.

The invitation to tender for the redesign project was open to consultancies as well as exhibition and events firms and closed in July.

The winning firm may decide which of the existing artefacts will be included in its proposed design.

The museum's new theme "Our Maritime Nation" will highlight "Singapore's fundamental identity as a maritime nation and the need to protect and defend our maritime interests" and appeal to new Navy sailors, Singaporean students and their families, and foreign visitors.

A key feature proposed for the museum will be a viewing gallery that acts as a reflective space, where visitors can look out at the Singapore Strait and reflect on "what we are defending".

When contacted, the Navy said it was too early to provide additional details.

Naval enthusiasts and heritage researchers welcomed the focus on Singapore as a maritime nation, saying it better contextualises the need for and the role of Singapore's Navy for museum visitors.

Freelance heritage consultant Lee Kok Leong said that the museum, in its current format, gives visitors a good understanding of the Republic of Singapore Navy's history.

However, "the inter-connectivity with the world and Singapore's dependence on maritime trade may not be immediately apparent", he said.

Heritage blogger and author Jerome Lim agreed, adding: "It is important to acknowledge what ultimately is the raison d'etre for the Navy, and how that shapes its roles and its importance in defending Singapore's maritime and economic interests."

Singapore Maritime Heritage Interest Group co-founder Kuet Ee Yoon said he felt the theme of "Our Maritime Nation" is too broad, and encompasses sub-themes that fall outside a military museum's objectives.

He said "Our Maritime Force" might be a more fitting theme.

"Singapore as a maritime nation is much more than trade and shipping activity - it's also about sea communities, their culture, as well as our historical ties to the Malay Peninsula and the Riau Archipelago."

In that vein, Mr Lim said he hoped a broader national maritime museum could be built as a "one-stop shop" that can showcase Singapore's maritime heritage.

"There is a much bigger story to be told in that respect, one that perhaps hasn't had the attention that it deserves," said the former naval architect.

Mr Lee said the revamp was timely, as the Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of maritime trade for Singapore - especially when compared with traffic at Singapore's land and air gateways - and offered a good time for reflection.

Located in Changi Naval Base, the museum was opened in May 2012 to replace the Republic of Singapore Navy Museum that had stood in Sembawang Camp for 24 years. PHOTO: REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE NAVY/FACEBOOK

The maritime sector has remained resilient amid the pandemic, with container throughput just 1 per cent lower last year than in 2019, then Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said during his ministry's Committee of Supply debate in March.

Likening the airport and seaport to the country's lungs, he said: "They draw oxygen from the global ecosystem, vitalising the rest of the Singapore economy."

Mr Lee said this highlights the importance of sea defence, something he feels the Navy Museum aims to continue emphasising when reopened.

When asked about improvements that he hoped to see in the revamped museum, Mr Lee said he hoped stories of adversity can also be told in a comprehensive way, such as the January 2003 collision between Navy patrol vessel RSS Courageous and container ship ANL Indonesia.

Four Navy servicewomen died in that incident, which took place near Pedra Branca.

Mr Lee said retelling such incidents, and how the Navy recovered from them, can be encouraging and empowering for future servicemen.

Mr Lim suggested a review of the location and accessibility of the museum, which currently is difficult to reach by public transport.

As for Mr Kuet, a former naval officer, he hoped the museum's curators will tap former servicemen and their experiences as they put together the new exhibits.

He added that new artefacts may be worth adding to the museum's collection, like the decommissioned County Class Landing Ship Tank (LST) RSS Resolution L204, which is almost eight decades old.

The vessel was acquired from the United States Navy in the 1970s, and was replaced by a locally designed and built LST in the late 1990s.

The RSS Resolution L204 pictured at the stretch of East Coast Park near Bedok in the 1980s. PHOTO: KUET EE YOON

Mr Kuet said older and former servicemen had spent hours on the high seas in the vessel. It was also possibly the first Navy vessel that everyday Singaporeans set foot on when the vessel was opened to the public during the 1984 National Exhibition at the World Trade Centre.

The exhibition drew 88,000 over two days, with more than 6,000 in line to board the ship at one point.

"The vessel is in the collective memory of Singaporeans, and can serve as a maritime heritage icon if used in the museum," said Mr Kuet.

The Navy Museum is currently closed, but visitors can still enjoy a virtual tour here.

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