SMEs in marine fuel sector to get financial help to go digital

They will each get $30k a year to cover costs in areas like software subscription, training

The Republic's maritime sector has remained resilient despite global economic headwinds, with the marine fuel or bunker segment holding steady amid the double shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic and fluctuating oil prices.

Nonetheless, the Government is pushing on with plans to do more for the sector, said Senior Minister of State for Transport and Foreign Affairs Chee Hong Tat yesterday.

One key plank is to step up digitalisation efforts, he said.

Covid-19, Mr Chee added, has changed the way the sector does business. Telecommuting and electronic transactions are now the norm instead of face-to-face meetings and paper transactions.

Adapting to these changes to improve productivity and cut costs is not always easy, he added.

With that in mind, Mr Chee said the Government is earmarking $30,000 per year for each small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) to cover up to 70 per cent of costs to go digital in areas such as software subscription, professional services and training.

The Government, he added, will also meet up to 50 per cent of the SMEs' hardware costs.

These are part of efforts to keep the marine fuels sector, which powers the shipping industry, profitable and moving forward, he said.

In his opening address at the Singapore International Bunkering Conference and Exhibition, Mr Chee said: "From January to August 2020, bunker sales volume in Singapore was 5.3 per cent higher at 32.9 million tonnes, compared with the same period in 2019."

Marine fuel, he added, is "an integral part" of the maritime industry as it lets vessels transport essential goods and supplies globally.

As part of the Sea Transport Industry Digital Plan under the SMEs Go Digital programme, there will be a new road map for the marine fuels sector. Road maps for ship agency and harbour craft are already in place.

Mr Chee said the sector will move towards the use of electronic bunker delivery notes to automate the collection of data using what are called mass flow meters.

The meters - introduced in 2017 - remove the need to manually gauge the amount of fuel transferred. They are also more accurate in measuring the quantity transferred.

The electronic bunker delivery notes also cut down the paperwork needed to transfer the data from the meter, and prevent manipulation of data.

Said Mr Chee: "We have made good progress. At least two bunkering companies are now conducting their proof of concept to fully integrate and automate mass flow meter data into delivery notes. We look forward to more companies coming on board."

Singapore, he added, is committed to maintaining the integrity of its bunkering sector.

"We are not perfect. We have our share of black sheep and cases of malpractice, but what is clear is that we will not hesitate to take firm action and revoke bunkering licences of errant companies," he said.

Singapore's regulatory framework, he added, makes it the only port in the world that implements a licensing regime for bunker suppliers and bunker craft operators.

In his speech, Mr Chee also touched on concerns that digitalisation will remove jobs in the maritime industry.

"Yes, some routine jobs will disappear, but many new jobs will be created. And most important of all, jobs will change for the better, be safer and pay more," he said. To that end, firms and workers can tap a raft of training grants and reskilling programmes, he added.

In terms of sustainability, Singapore has been developing the infrastructure to support the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG), Mr Chee said. LNG is a fuel that can cut carbon dioxide emissions from ships, and this helps the industry meet global targets on reducing sulphur and greenhouse gas emissions, he added.

He said the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has issued two LNG bunker supplier licences, and will be launching a Request for Proposal in the coming weeks to issue more licences to meet the growing demand.

Yesterday MPA signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism to develop a plan for the adoption of future marine fuels to support decarbonisation, among other things.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2020, with the headline SMEs in marine fuel sector to get financial help to go digital. Subscribe