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Interview

Ronald Tan, Director, Singapore Maritime Academy

Ronald Tan, Director of Singapore Maritime Academy (SMA), highlights the longstanding importance and contribution of the SMA to Singapore‘s reputable marine industry, specifically emphasizing the organization’s contribution towards cultivating an industry of the highest standard through stringent training measures. 

SMA has a long and interesting history, what is the role the company plays in developing Singapore’s future leaders in the Marine Industry?

Established in 1957, the Singapore Maritime Academy (SMA) started with the underlying objective of producing seagoing officers who can operate ships in a competent and safe manner, and who will also acquire the necessary experience and communication skills to become captains in the maritime industry. However, over time the expanse of the training has evolved to include engineering and business aspects.

Singapore Maritime Academy (SMA), at the Singapore Polytechnic, remains at the forefront in Maritime Education and Training offering diploma courses in Marine Engineering, Maritime Business and Nautical Studies as well as a comprehensive range of professional courses such as the Certificate of Competency (CoC) and Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) courses for deck and engineering officers.

SMA has groomed many professionals and industry leaders for the past 55 years with its team of experienced and dedicated staff, and is supported by sophisticated facilities including a fully integrated maritime simulation centre and a waterfront training facility.

As Singapore’s Premier Maritime Education & Training Academy, our mission continues to be preparing young talents to be Work-Ready, Life-Ready and World-Ready. Moving forward, with its recent involvement in R&D, SMA hopes to pioneer breakthrough research projects to elevate its role from a training provider to an innovation centre for the maritime industry.

How would you summarize the SMA’s current key focus areas in maritime education and training?

The three full-time diploma courses remain as SMA’s mainstay; Diploma in Marine Engineering, Diploma in Nautical Studies and the Diploma in Maritime Business. SMA also supports Singapore’s efforts in boosting Maritime Education and Training as the training partner for the CoC and STCW courses for deck and engineering officers. SMA also has recently embarked on the new Certificate of Competency (Special Limits) programme, which was launched by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) in consultation with National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and Singapore Shipping Association (SSA). The course will help to meet the job demand for marine engineers and deck officers in Bunker Tankers and other crafts, operating within Special Limits in and around Singapore waters.

Given your unique perspective of the industry, how would you assess Singapore’s strengths and competitive advantages in terms of its maritime industry, particularly from an offshore oil and gas sector?

Singapore’s ideal location at the crossroads of shipping routes is the basis of its success as a maritime hub and the Port of Singapore is the world’s busiest container-port in the world in terms of shipping tonnage, with some 120,000 vessel calls annually, according to the website of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

With a world class airport and strong banking and IT infrastructure, several established shipping companies including those offering ancillary services have set up their headquarters in Singapore. Keppel Corp. and Sembcorp Marine Limited, the world’s two biggest oilrig builders, are both based in Singapore. A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S (MAERSKB), owner of the world’s largest container-shipping company, has set up its second biggest hub in Singapore after the headquarters in Denmark.

Singapore built its first LNG terminal in Asia, Singapore LNG terminal, capable of importing and re-exporting liquid natural gas (LNG) from multiple suppliers. Built at an estimated cost of S$1.7 billion, the terminal commenced commercial operations on 7 May 2013. The terminal is designed as an Import/Export Terminal and set to be a catalyst for the development of an LNG trading hub within this region.

According to MPA website, Singapore is the top bunkering (ship re-fuelling) ports in the world with more than 42 million tonnes of bunkers lifted in Singapore in 2012. Singapore is also the world’s third-largest petrochemical refiner.

Singapore has provided incentives to attract companies to make it a maritime hub and offers tax exemptions and more flexibility in hiring crew members of any nationality to attract more shipping lines to register their ships, according to MPA website. About 70 percent of the global jack-up rigs and vessel conversions into floating oil production units are done in Singapore, according to the Ministry of Transport. The Ministry said that the marine and offshore industry contributed to an output of more than S$16 billion ($13 billion) and is one of the fastest growing sectors in Singapore’s economy.

What challenges are Singapore’s offshore oil and gas companies facing today?

Singapore, due to a lack of natural resources, is highly dependent on its workforce including the maritime industry. It is a challenge to ensure that the workforce is trained to meet the needs of the employers and industry. A major challenge, which is not unique to Singapore, is making the maritime industry an attractive career option to young Singaporeans. They may have different career expectations where they would prefer to work ashore in an office environment with predictable working hours; they may also have misconceptions of the seafaring or offshore careers, which are perceived to be very physically demanding and in an unsafe environment.

In your view, what are the critical success factors necessary to advance Singapore’s positioning as hub for marine and offshore activities?

Building a quality workforce is essential in sustaining Singapore as an offshore and maritime hub. Singapore has an excellent maritime education and training infrastructure through the Singapore Maritime Academy at the Singapore Polytechnic where young Singaporeans receive subsidized education in Marine Engineering, Maritime Business and Nautical Studies for its full-time diploma courses. SMA takes in 340 full-time students each year in the three courses. Further upgrading for professional courses such as the CoC and STCW courses for deck and engineering officers are also offered at the institution. MPA and SMA offer navigation, engine room and dynamic positioning simulation training at the Integrated Simulation Centre (ISC). The courses and facilities are constantly upgraded to ensure that it remains at the forefront in Maritime Education and Training making them relevant and exciting to entice the youths to the industry.

The MPA, WDA and the e2i have committed more than $7 million over two years in two new initiatives to attract Singaporeans to join the harbor craft sector. The inaugural “Special Limits” program for Deck Officers was launched in 2011. The Marine Engineer Officer (Special Limits) program was introduced in 2012 encouraged by the strong take-up rate for the Deck Officer program and coupled with interest from companies for a similar program to train marine engineer officers. SMA is the training provider for both programs with an annual intake of 100 cadets. When there was a demand for offshore safety training from the industry, SMA was quick to respond and partnered with SMTC Global Inc to set up the SMA- SMTC Safety and Training Centre (SSSTC) at the Poly Marina in 2007.

Singapore actively promotes maritime careers through the various organizations in order to ensure sufficient workforce to support the industry. MPA, Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF) and the industry, pull together to offer various initiatives and programs to reach out to the youths from Secondary schools to other institutes of higher learning. Besides creating awareness of the maritime industry through outreach programs in schools, such as career talks and exhibitions, students are often invited on learning journeys to expose them to the industry and the career opportunities that it offers. In sponsoring its students’ academic education, SMA collaborates with MPA, SMF and industries to offer a variety of scholarships for its full-time diploma courses and further education at universities.

How has the government added to the strong network of support already existing at SMA?

The Singapore government support towards the maritime industry is evident in the slew of initiatives and funding that it provides. In the recent Singapore Maritime Week in April 2013, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance announced the following:

  1. To enable our maritime industry to meet future challenges and tap on future growth opportunities, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) works with industry partners to invest in maritime research and development (R&D) through the Maritime Innovation and Technology (MINT) Fund. MPA will extend the MINT Fund for another five years with a top-up of S$50 million.
  2. To support the industry’s productivity efforts, MPA will introduce a S$25 million Productivity Program under its Maritime Cluster Fund (MCF). From 1 June 2013, this Program will offer co-funding support for productivity initiatives by maritime companies such as ship owners and operators, ship managers and agents, port operators and maritime technology providers.
  3. To attract talent to the maritime sector, MPA will introduce a Global Internship Award. MPA plans to set aside S$2 million to grant this Award to some 100 interns over the next five years.

What is your vision and some of your personal goals for the SMA and Singapore’s maritime industry?

The SMA is constantly building up on its capacity and capability planning. Where we see a gap in the maritime landscape, we work towards providing for that demand. For example, SMA is currently working on a proposal for a new STCW CoC course for the marine Electro-Technical Officer (ETO), which arose from the feedback from the industry that there was a lack for such qualified personnel on board.

Our strength is in the training of shipboard operations; however, we see that safety training in offshore is an area, which has great potential. We have been offering such training in partnership with SMTC Global Inc for the last five years and are ready to expand further to meet industry demands. While SMA provides the expertise in pedagogy such partnerships with industry practitioners enhance training with their advanced industry knowledge. Based on this workable model, SMA is prepared to enhance training in other relevant areas concerning offshore in partnership with the industry.

Another area that SMA is scaling up in is R&D. Our partnership with Force Technology allows research work involving high-end simulators to be conducted in our premises which also includes R&D work relating to offshore support vessels. SMA also has a staff onboard whose background was in the building of offshore semi-submersible and is currently involved in various maritime-related research work. We hope that such initiatives and involvement by staff will build SMA’s capability in this area and spur it further into the forefront of maritime education and training.

To read more interviews and articles on Singapore, and to download the latest free report on the country, click here.

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