$1.6 million funding for 11 new projects to take maritime sector beyond Covid-19

Ms Grace Chia, CEO and co-founder of BeeX, winner of the SPC 2020 Grand Final on Nov 17, 2020. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
The 11 joint industry projects are meant to drive digitalisation and the adoption of 3D-printing in the maritime sector. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Ship crews checking in at Marina South Pier and West Coast Pier to board their vessels have been using self-service kiosks since the start of this month, reducing queueing time and physical interactions during the pandemic.

Ship parts such as engine components and fuel nozzles are also being 3D-printed right here in the Republic, and tested on Singapore-registered vessels, from tug boats to massive container ships.

These are among the 11 joint industry projects worth $1.625 million awarded by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) under the Maritime Innovation and Technology Fund. They are meant to drive digitalisation and the adoption of 3D-printing in the maritime sector.

Speaking at the Smart Port Challenge 2020 finals on Tuesday (Nov 17), Senior Minister of State for Transport and Foreign Affairs Chee Hong Tat said innovation is crucial in tackling the three driving forces impacting the sector: disruption, digitalisation and decarbonisation.

"To turn these three Ds from challenges to opportunities, innovation must continue to be the central focus of our maritime ecosystem, and our key value proposition as a maritime hub," he said.

In his speech, Mr Chee emphasised the need to review existing policies and rules to support innovation.

"We must continue to provide a regulatory environment which is flexible, forward-looking and open to new possibilities, and where we welcome industry players to work together with government agencies to jointly develop new solutions," he said.

He cited the use of telemedicine in examining and certifying fit seafarers on vessels arriving in Singapore, before they disembark for crew changes.

Crew changes have been severely affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with border and travel restrictions leaving 400,000 seafarers stranded at sea. With efforts such as the use of telemedicine, Singapore has facilitated over 54,000 crew changes since March 27, and created a procedure which has been hailed as a global model.

The medical clearance is a new requirement that arose due to Covid-19, noted Mr Chee. Doctors initially had to take a boat out to vessels at sea, and go onboard to physically examine the crew. It was costly, time-consuming and carried a high risk of infection for the doctors.

"MPA worked with the Ministry of Health to revise our crew change protocol and port marine circulars. This allowed our doctors to examine crew remotely before they issued a fit-to-travel certificate," said Mr Chee.

He stressed the need to keep communication channels open between government agencies and the industry, and to encourage feedback and suggestions from stakeholders on how to continually enhance rules and practices in the sector.

Mr Chee also said that being innovative requires experimentation and risk-taking, and that as the world's largest transhipment port, Singapore is a good location to test out new ideas.

"Solutions that work well in a busy hub port like Singapore could be adapted for other ports globally," he said.

MPA, with the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) and National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster, had earlier this year called for proposals to drive digitalisation and the adoption of 3D-printing, and received 40 submissions.

"Proposals were evaluated based on their technological innovation and differentiation, impact to the industry, and strength of capability development," MPA said in a press release.

Of the 11 approved projects, five are focused on improving operational resilience and productivity of the maritime sector here in a post-pandemic new normal.

Local technology start-up Shipsfocus is collaborating with another maritime firm Innovez One to develop contactless counter services at the two piers here, said Mr Chee.

The project involves 10 counters and could reduce queues and save roughly up to $180,000 in costs per year, changing an industry typically used to scheduling boats and passengers using pen and paper.

Shipsfocus founder Chua Chye Poh said that physical counters are usually manned 24/7, with around six people needed.

Costs can be cut as these roles are gradually automated with a digital booking platform and self-service kiosks.

Mr Chua said the project received about $180,000 in funding, which is slightly less than half of the project cost.

Another six projects receiving the MPA funding are aimed at developing 3D-printing capabilities in the maritime sector here.

"Additive manufacturing will play a critical role in achieving a more sustainable and efficient maritime industry. Current methods to replace marine spare parts can be costly and time-consuming. Sometimes, the cost of sourcing and bringing in a spare part may cost more than the part itself," said Mr Chee.

Wilhelmsen Ships Services and German manufacturer Thyssenkrupp will together lead two projects to print and trial the use of 14 ship parts onboard Singapore-registered vessels from eight different shipping firms.

British construction engineering firm Lloyd's Register is collaborating with Singapore Polytechnic to produce ship parts that will be fitted and trialled on ocean-going vessels from Neptune Pacific Lines.

SSA executive director Michael Phoon said the projects show an increasing focus within the industry on digitalisation and sustainability to meet long-term business competitiveness.

"We look forward to the wider adoption and acceptance of such transformation technologies by the global maritime community," he said.

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