Channel NewsAsia

Working round the clock to keep Singapore's port waters safe

Singapore has one of the busiest ports in the world, with a ship departing or arriving in the port every two to three minutes.

SINGAPORE: Singapore has one of the busiest ports in the world, with a ship departing or arriving in the port every two to three minutes.

And it's the job of the Maritime and Port Authority's (MPA's) officers to ensure things run smoothly and ships keep to their channels.

To avoid close calls, vessel traffic officers could issue up to two warnings to ships on some days.

At MPA's Port Operations Control Centre at the PSA Vista, vessel traffic officers like Lim Man Jia monitor traffic in Singapore port waters.

She ensures that rules are followed, and provides ship captains with information on their proximity to other ships.

It is not an easy task, considering there are at least 1,000 ships in Singapore port waters at any given time.

Sometimes, warnings to these ships and those around them have to be sent out.

Lim said: "In the case of conflicting situation where ships are actually crossing, you get a bit panicky if we are unable to get hold of them. The difficulty is to actually stay composed and get our messages across as timely as possible so that these mariners they can actually make use of all this information and avoid the conflicts."

The centre monitors 60 per cent of Singapore's port waters - along western Singapore and the Singapore Strait.

The other 40 per cent of port waters is handled by another operations control centre, situated at the Changi Naval Base.

MPA says the two centres can also serve as back-ups to each other, and each centre has the capability to take control of all of Singapore's Port waters when either one of them sees an emergency.

Port inspectors also brave inclement weather to conduct between 25 and 40 enforcement checks during each of their shifts.

Each shift sees about 12 staff working a maximum of two hours before taking a break.

After the break, they are assigned to a different console which includes being out at sea.

For port inspectors like Andi Johan Shah and his 44 port inspection officers, this is anything but a routine shift.

They could be inspecting anything between 25 and 40 harbour and pleasure crafts that operate in Singapore port waters, on any given day during each of their shifts".

Andi and his team conduct enforcement and safety checks, and they could see violations ranging from manning a craft without proper licences to being overloaded.

They are also the first to respond to incidents such as oil spills, collisions, as well as search and rescue missions.

"The port waters have become smaller because of the reclamation works. Singapore is expanding. It's very challenging because you've got to be kept updated on where you can go and where we can't go," said Andi.

He added: "When reclamation works are ongoing, the waters also change, the depth of waters also changes so vessels do run aground based on that."

However, Andi said their training and keeping abreast of changes keeps them a step ahead all the time.

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