PM pays tribute to pioneers who steered fledgling navy

ST VIDEO: CHARMAINE NG
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on the bridge of the RSS Independence at Changi Naval Base yesterday. The warship is the first of eight littoral mission vessels to be commissione
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on the bridge of the RSS Independence at Changi Naval Base yesterday. The warship is the first of eight littoral mission vessels to be commissioned. By 2020, these ships of the next generation will replace the current fleet of 11 Fearless-class patrol vessels.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

He hails their determination and resourcefulness in building the navy

As a young sailor training overseas in the 1960s, now retired Second Warrant Officer Osman Abdullah used to endure a term of derision aimed at Singapore's nascent maritime force.

"They called us a toy navy," he said.

Yesterday, looking out at the modern warships docked at Changi Naval Base, he broke into a wide grin as he recalled that old taunt.

"Now you see, the toy navy is coming up," he said with satisfaction. "I'm very proud to see the navy grow like that."


An event marking the Singapore navy's 50th anniversary. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Mr Osman, 86, was one of the pioneers at the Singapore Navy's golden jubilee celebrations, during which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recounted its humble beginnings.

Fifty years ago to the day, the Navy Ensign was first hoisted at Telok Ayer Basin, the site of modern-day Shenton Way, to form the Singapore Naval Volunteer Force.

VALUABLE SKILLS

What our pioneers lacked in technology and resources, they made up for in their determination and resourcefulness... They acquired and passed down the art of seafaring and the skills and discipline of seamen.

PM LEE

Made up of just a handful of volunteers from the Singapore Division of the Malayan Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and the Singapore Women's Auxiliary Naval Service, "it was a makeshift force", said Mr Lee.

One of those with the women's auxiliary service, Ms Iris Ng, said she was a telephone operator, connecting calls through a manual switchboard in the 1960s while on land.

Out at sea, she learnt to navigate and read the compass of a ship, and did maintenance duties, too.

"The floorboards were wooden and we had to polish the copper railings with Brasso to make them shine," recalled the 77-year-old.

Addressing more than 1,700 past and present naval officers yesterday, Mr Lee paid tribute to that early generation of sailors, saying: "What our pioneers lacked in technology and resources, they made up for in their determination and resourcefulness."

And so naval officers were sent abroad to Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada to train and gain operational experience.

"They acquired and passed down the art of seafaring and the skills and discipline of seamen," he said.

The navy's hardware was also progressively improved, starting with six patrol craft in 1968. It then gradually broadened its range of vessels with missile gunboats, landing ship tanks, minesweepers and missile corvettes.

These efforts paid off in 1975 when the organisation was renamed the Republic of Singapore Navy, and became one of the three services - along with the army and air force - in the Singapore Armed Forces. Today, it is a full-fledged navy complete with submarines, frigates, maritime patrol aircraft, and unmanned vessels and unmanned aircraft.

The men and women who don its uniform have also been tested in real operations, Mr Lee added, as they have carried out anti-piracy missions in the Arabian Gulf, search-and-rescue operations after aircraft incidents, and coordinated patrols in the Malacca Strait.

Because of these achievements, it is now "a navy that is admired at home and respected beyond our shores", Mr Lee said.

Joining this modern fighting force is the first navy ship completely designed and built in Singapore.

Mr Lee commissioned the littoral mission vessel RSS Independence into service yesterday. It is the third ship to bear the name Independence after its two predecessors, a patrol craft and another patrol vessel, retired from service.

Mr Lee acknowledged the crews of the first and second Independence ships, as well as the pioneers who turned up to mark the navy's 50th birthday.

"Your presence honours the new RSS Independence and its crew, and reminds us what the navy is about: not just capable ships and up-to-date technology, but fighting spirit and dedication to the nation," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2017, with the headline 'PM pays tribute to pioneers who steered fledgling navy'. Print Edition | Subscribe