Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore’s smart technology push

Image courtesy of Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore

Singapore has one of the world’s busiest ports, seeing about 130,000 vessels annually. An estimated  1,000 vessels call at the port at any one time, which means there is a vessel arriving or leaving Singapore every two to three minutes. To meet the demands of increasing annual traffic, new technologies are being developed and test-bedded to manage ship traffic, automate processes and optimise resources. e-Gov Innovation conducted an interview with Toh Ah Cheong, Director of  Technology Division at the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), on the use of smart technology to enhance port operations.

What are the contributing factors for Singapore's success as a global port? 

Singapore’s history with the sea and maritime trade goes back to over a century, some 190 years ago. Our strategic position at the crossroads of East-West seaborne trade routes has enabled transformative initiatives that have led us to become the one of the world’s top and busiest ports – measured by ship arrivals, shipping tonnage and bunker sales. In 2014, vessel arrival tonnage reached a record high of close to 2.4 billion gross tonnage and container throughput was almost 34 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU or a standard shipping container).

Singapore has grown and prospered in global interconnectivity. Singapore is now the focal point for some 200 shipping lines with links to more than 600 ports in over 120 countries worldwide. Singapore also has one of the highest concentrations of international shipping groups as well as a comprehensive range of maritime services, both commercial and technical.

Our status as a logistics hub and financial centre with a business-friendly environment also makes it attractive for maritime and related companies to capitalise on Singapore’s strategic location to plug into the growth of Asian shipping. Singapore also plays host to the headquarters and representative offices of international maritime organisations and associations such as the Baltic Exchange, Asian Shipowners’ Forum, International Bunker Industry Association, ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre, INTERTANKO and BIMCO.

What are some of the challenges faced by Singapore's port that MPA hopes to address through the use of technology?

We are expecting vessel traffic to grow in tandem to world trade in the longer term, and this would lead to higher ship traffic within the navigational channels and anchorages. This would require strategic sea space planning and a higher level of navigational safety through the use of next-generation vessel traffic management systems and Big Data.

In order to raise productivity and improve efficiency in port operations such as marine, bunkering and manning of vessels, the Port of Singapore encourages port users and industry players to innovate and develop new technologies to automate processes and optimize labor inputs.

Some of these technologies, such as mass flow-meter (MFM) for measuring bunker fuel quantity, have recently being deployed after a two-year MFM test-bedding programme by the bunkering community and supported by the MPA. Singapore is the first port in the world to mandate the use of MFMs for bunkering, thus setting a new benchmark for bunkering practices worldwide. The use of MFM system for bunkering in the Port of Singapore will enhance transparency in the bunkering process as well as improve operational efficiency and increase the productivity of the entire bunkering industry. Through our experience in the test-bedding programme, bunker suppliers are able to enjoy up to 3 hours of time saving per bunker delivery.

Another technological innovation is the use of driverless vehicles, also known as Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), which will replace the existing prime movers in container terminal operations to reduce manpower need. We have collaborated with a local company to develop a 'marinised' unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for spilled oil surveillance and will develop with local research institutions and technology companies more applications of UAV to support oil spill incidents management and marine environment monitoring. The other automated container terminal equipment is the automated yard cranes, which the Port Authority of Singapore Corporation is already using in its new Pasir Panjang Terminal Phases 3 and 4 container terminal.  With twenty-four-by-seven operations, there will be substantial manpower reduction with the use of AGVs and automated yard cranes.

For the seaward part of the port, we have launched a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) bunkering pilot programme to seed the use of LNG as ship fuel and to test out various LNG bunkering procedures and safety standards.  R&D on other clean fuels, such as methanol and fuel cells, are also being carried out by the local universities and industry players. The development and adoption of green technologies are being promoted through the Green Technology Programme, which has supported 18 maritime companies so far in the electrification of terminal equipments such as electric rubber-tyred gantry cranes and implementation of energy-reduction technologies.