SINGAPORE: There was nothing unnatural about the nine Singaporean infantry carrier vehicles transiting in Hong Kong, said Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Melvyn Ong on Tuesday (Nov 29).
The Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICVs) belonging to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have been impounded in Hong Kong since last Wednesday, when they were being shipped back to Singapore from Taiwan after being deployed in overseas training exercises.
Speaking at a media briefing at Choa Chu Kang Camp, MG Ong said: "Hong Kong is a common international port of call for many foreign militaries and many companies also... There have been no issues in the past, so this is a first."
The ICVs were impounded amid queries over necessary licenses and declarations, said Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) last Friday, the same day SAF officials landed in Hong Kong to try to resolve the issue along with personnel from shipping contractor APL.
"We're still waiting for further confirmation on the ground, to find out exactly what was the reason for the detainment. It will be clearer in a day or two," said MG Ong.
STRICT MEASURES FOR COMMERCIAL SHIPPING
Explaining how commercial shipping of military equipment is the "norm" for many, MG Ong said: "It's a commonly adopted means. Many militaries use it consistently .. during peacetime training. It's the most cost-effective and efficient means of transporting large amounts of equipment."
"We have a system in place to ensure how this is done properly," he added. "We have an established system for engaging commercial companies. All are required to comply with stringent requirements to protect against tampering and theft - for example, we lock; double lock some containers to ensure the security of goods on board."
"They must also apply for all necessary permits (and) all regulatory requirements while travelling and at ports of call. The contractor has to be responsible for this."
Said MG Ong: "The SAF also has strict measures when we transport ammunition or sensitive equipment - we don't make transit stops, including not calling on undesirable or UN-embargoed ports."
Asked why the ICVs made a stopover in Xiamen before Hong Kong, he explained: "We don't specify the route. It's a purely commercial decision taken by APL. But we don't stop at certain ports with security implications for cargo ... For the items on board this particular cargo, there was no need."
MG Ong also revealed that APL has been working with Mindef since the 1990s, although it is not the only company contracted to ship its equipment.
The APL ship with the ICVs onboard was carrying over 4,000 containers, he added. "Ours was a small footprint; a small volume of cargo in shipping so it makes sense for it to tag on to a large shipment."
Concluded MG Ong: "We've never had an incident before. But we will take a look... Let's see how it goes."
On Monday (Nov 28) China's foreign ministry said it had asked Singapore to "strictly abide by" Hong Kong laws as well as to cooperate with the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
A spokesman also stated China's opposition to countries with Chinese relations having "any form of official exchanges with the Taiwan region, including military exchanges and cooperation". Taiwan is viewed by China as a breakaway province outside of its "One China" ideal.
China and Singapore officially established diplomatic relations in 1990.