Singapore's sea cargo one bright spot amid pandemic

Cargo volume 97% in Nov, compared with start of year; reviving air travel remains a challenge

The Ministry of Transport's figures showed that passenger movement at Changi Airport in April plummeted to 0.004 per cent of what it was at the start of the year. Air passenger numbers have been creeping up since then. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
The Ministry of Transport's figures showed that passenger movement at Changi Airport in April plummeted to 0.004 per cent of what it was at the start of the year. Air passenger numbers have been creeping up since then. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

While Covid-19 has severely affected many aspects of transport, Singapore's sea cargo volume has been doing well, remaining close to pre-pandemic levels.

Compared with the start of the year, the volume of sea cargo here stood at 97 per cent in November, according to figures of Singapore's air, land and sea sectors released by the Ministry of Transport (MOT) in a Facebook post yesterday.

Commenting on the performance of the maritime sector in a separate Facebook post, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said it was a "bright spark during such difficult times".

"Our port remains open, goods... (are) flowing. We even managed to develop 'safe corridor' procedures for crew change, that was viewed as international maritime best practice," added Mr Ong. "Looking ahead, we are partnering the industry to push more strongly for digitalisation and innovation while we grow our maritime talent pool."

Crew changes have been severely affected due to the pandemic, with border and travel restrictions leaving many seafarers stranded at sea. But with efforts such as the use of telemedicine, Singapore has facilitated more than 60,000 crew changes since March 27, and created a procedure which has been hailed as a global model.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore has developed a guidebook along with the Singapore Shipping Association and other industry partners, detailing a set of procedures to create this "safe corridor" for crew changes, while minimising risk to public health here.

The International Maritime Organisation has circulated the guidebook to all member states as a reference, and its secretary-general Kitack Lim hailed the crew change "safe corridor" as a model to address the issue in other ports.

The Government has also been providing help to the maritime industry. Earlier this month, it announced that it was extending aid for more affected sectors in the industry to help them tide over the pandemic, under the MaritimeSG Together Package.

The package took effect on May 1 to provide support for shipping companies, Singaporean seafarers and people undergoing maritime training, to the tune of $27 million. With additional support, it is now worth $33 million.

But reviving air travel has been challenging, and MOT's figures showed that passenger movement at Changi Airport in April plummeted to 0.4 per cent of what it was at the start of the year.

Singapore closed its borders to travellers on March 23 and went into the circuit breaker period on April 7. Air passenger numbers have been creeping up since then, and as of November, MOT said the figure stands at 1.9 per cent.

Effort have been made to resuscitate aviation, such as an attempted air travel bubble with Hong Kong and the lifting of border restrictions earlier for travellers from Brunei, China, New Zealand and Vietnam.

Mr Ong had earlier in the year underscored the importance of rebuilding air links to the country and said the longer Singapore's borders remain closed, the greater the risk of it losing its air hub status, which is critical to its economy.

MOT's figures also showed public transport ridership now stands at more than 70 per cent of what it was at the start of the year. During the circuit breaker period in May, this figure fell to a quarter of what it was in January, but it has been steadily improving since June.

Correction note: An earlier version of this story said that passenger movement at Changi Airport in April was 0.004 per cent and in November was 0.019 per cent. MOT has since clarified and the figures have been updated.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 27, 2020, with the headline 'Singapore's sea cargo one bright spot amid pandemic'. Print Edition | Subscribe