Singapore needs a strong maritime force as an island nation that depends on trade as its lifeblood, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, as the navy celebrated its 50th anniversary and commissioned a new warship.
That was why Singapore's pioneers decided to build up the navy soon after the Republic gained independence in 1965.
"Because we traded with the world, and the sea was - and still is - our lifeline," said PM Lee, before commissioning the navy's first littoral mission vessel (LMV) at Changi Naval Base.
"We needed a strong maritime force to protect our sovereignty, defend us from seaborne threats, and keep trade - our lifeblood - flowing."
Singapore's maritime sector contributes about 7 per cent to the nation's gross domestic product. It is home to over 130 international shipping groups and more than 5,000 maritime establishments, making it one of the world's busiest ports.
PM Lee noted how the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) is now a fighting force equipped with technologically advanced hardware, including submarines, frigates, maritime patrol aircraft, and unmanned vessels and aircraft - a far cry from its inception on May 5, 1967, at Telok Ayer Basin with just two seaworthy wooden ships and a third ship moored as its headquarters. "(It is now) a navy that is admired at home and respected beyond our shores," he said.
Joining the fleet was the first locally designed and built LMV, RSS Independence, which became fully operational after a ceremony witnessed by some 1,700 past and present navy personnel and guests.
These included Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Chief of Defence Force Perry Lim, Chief of Navy Lai Chung Han and eight former navy chiefs, including DPM Teo.
The warship - launched in July 2015 - is the first of eight LMVs to be commissioned and tasked to replace the fleet of 11 Fearless-class patrol vessels by 2020.
As part of the golden jubilee celebrations, PM Lee also launched an RSN50 commemorative book and an art mural depicting Singapore's maritime heritage alongside the navy's progress, by colouring the crescent moon in gold.
He also sealed a time capsule comprising artefacts symbolic of the RSN's key achievements over the years; it will be opened on the navy's 75th anniversary in 2042.
Items in the capsule include a framed poster of the ports of call during the navy's first round-the-world voyage, a replica of the new LMV and a book compilation of the aspirations of navy personnel for the next 25 years.
With the commissioning of RSS Independence marking a new milestone, the men and women of the navy carry a vital task in continuing its proud history, said PM Lee. "It is now your duty to sail the ships of the next-generation navy, and keep Singapore safe and secure, in peacetime as in war," he told them.
Rear-Admiral Lai yesterday pledged the navy's continued dedication to protecting Singapore's waters, as he thanked the Government and Singaporeans for their trust and support over the years.
"On our golden jubilee day today, we, men and women of the navy, recommit ourselves to defend our country and the security of our waters," he said.
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