Safety paramount as more passengers resume taking ferries: S. Iswaran

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Journalist Samuel Devaraj experienced firsthand what it is like to be rescued from a stricken ferry during MPA's annual rescue exercise.

SINGAPORE - A ferry collided with another boat on Monday (Aug 29), which necessitated the evacuation of 82 passengers. But this mock incident that is the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore's (MPA) annual ferry rescue exercise has taken on greater significance, as borders reopen and ferry services between Singapore and neighbouring countries resume.

Speaking to the media after observing the exercise, Transport Minister S. Iswaran stressed the importance of safety amid the positive response to the service resumption from passengers, operators and government agencies from various countries.

He said: "We need to make sure that even as we resume services that we do so in a manner that is safe, sustained and also able to meet the passenger requirements and operational requirements.

"Because the ramping up requires the mobilisation of new resources, bringing in of additional manpower, and this we have seen across different domains and across the world is a challenging exercise."

According to MPA, the number of ferry passengers travelling regionally has returned to nearly 40 per cent of pre-Covid-19 numbers, with HarbourFront Passenger and Tanah Merah Ferry terminals fully operational, with services to destinations such as Desaru, Batam and Bintan.

The pandemic scaled down MPA's ferry rescue exercise in the last two years.

There were 50 personnel who took part last year and, in 2020, MPA could conduct only a tabletop exercise due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Monday's exercise, held in conjunction with the annual International Safety at Sea conference from Tuesday to Friday, involved more than 200 personnel from various agencies - including the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, Ministry of Health (MOH), the police and the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) - and private companies such as Batam Fast Ferry.

The exercise held off the western coast of Sentosa and at HarbourFront Passenger Terminal had a scenario based on a collision between a ferry and a harbour craft.

Passengers being rescued from a distressed ferry during MPA's annual ferry rescue exercise on Aug 29, 2022. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM
Triage and medical teams from the SCDF and MOH at Harbourfront, tending to those playing the role of injured passengers. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Some passengers were transported to a nearby ferry, simulating how the process would be like if such a craft was within reach, while others were transferred to a life raft deployed from the distressed vessel.

Also involved in the exercise was the MPA Guardian, which was launched in April. It is a hybrid diesel-electric vessel that can conduct search and rescue, oil spill response and other salvage operations.

The RSAF deployed a helicopter to evacuate a dummy passenger.

On land, medical personnel and triage facilities by Singapore Civil Defence Force and MOH were deployed at HarbourFront, with police and immigration officers providing security and immigration clearance.

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