Coronavirus: Passenger boat operators hit by Covid-19 fears get over $1m in relief to keep business afloat

Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health Lam Pin Min (front) visiting Marina South Pier on Feb 20, 2020. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Business has been slow for Mr Ryden Fang Yiyang since the coronavirus outbreak hit Singapore.

The director of ferry operator Singapore Island Cruise & Ferry Services said that on a normal weekday, his boats transport about 20 passengers.

However, since the epidemic's risk level was raised to orange, just 10 passengers are booked on his ferries on some days, he said.

Business on the weekends has not been not much better.

"We usually see about 100 (passengers) on weekends, but now it's about 50," he told The Straits Times.

Mr Fang's company is one of around 17 operators at Marina South Pier that operate small boats, known as harbour craft, to places like the Southern Islands, St John's Island and Kusu Island.

Other operators there run crew shuttles to large ships, like tankers, that are moored offshore.

On Thursday (Feb 20), Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health Lam Pin Min visited the pier to reassure the operators that help was at hand.

His visit comes after Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced in the recent Budget a 50 per cent port dues concession to passenger vessels to provide relief to vessel owners and operators affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.

The new concession will be given for six months from March 1 to Aug 31, and will apply on top of all existing port dues concessions.

Some 600 cruise vessels, regional ferries and passenger-carrying harbour craft are expected to benefit from the concessions, bringing total savings of "over $1 million" in the six-month period.

After speaking to some port operators during a tour of the pier, Dr Lam said many were "quite happy" with the announcement.

"It helps them to a certain extent, and I will continue to monitor this sector very carefully, and to make sure that whatever measures that have been implemented will be sufficient for them."

Dr Lam also paid tribute to the harbour craft operators for "continuing to run their services to keep the economy going".

"We also understand that they have been stepping up measures to keep the ferries as well as the harbour craft clean. They have been doing sterilisation twice a day. I think this is something that is commendable," he added.

Mr Chua Meng Chuan, owner of CKL Motor Boat, welcomed the relief measures. Most of the crews he provides shuttle ferry services for are Chinese, whose numbers have fallen due to immigration restrictions.

"As bosses, we must also think of our workers. Such measures will definitely help us," he said in Mandarin.

Mr Fang said some harbour craft operators are concerned, but he is not too worried.

"We cannot really calculate the impact (on your business) yet," he said. "Hopefully the situation can stabilise, and with the government relief, we can stay afloat."

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