Keynote Address by Mr Esben Poulsson President of the Singapore Shipping Association at the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) Seminar 2016


Mr S.S. Teo, Chairman of the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI),
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good morning to one and all,

1 This is the eleventh (11th) Singapore Maritime Week and on this occasion we are also commemorating the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore’s (MPA) twentieth (20th) anniversary. It is a great pleasure for me to be part of this event which also celebrates the SMI’s five (5) years of ‘Building a Singapore Maritime Knowledge Hub’. I would like to congratulate the SMI for its contributions towards Maritime R&D in Singapore over these past five (5) years.

Maritime Singapore – Where we are today

2 Collectively, we have sailed quite a distance to where Maritime Singapore is today – a premier international maritime centre (IMC) and global knowledge hub. With a strong cluster of maritime players, Singapore was recognised as the ‘Leading Maritime Capital of the World’ by the Norwegian consulting firm Menon in 2015 .

3 This has not been an easy feat and in fact, a number of other IMCs continue to aspire to reach this position. Singapore has gone beyond its mere geographical trade route advantage to achieve so much more within just a few decades. Not just as a leading hub port for transhipment and logistics, but as an established maritime, legal and financial centre – let alone being the world leader in the construction of sophisticated, state of the art offshore drilling rigs.

4 We must never, however, take these great achievements for granted nor rest on our laurels. Every voyage faces the risk of rogue waves and headwinds, as the current harsh operating environment, especially in the dry bulk and container segments, so amply illustrates.

5 But in times of uncertainty we must remain especially steadfast and be forward looking. Our resilience and future-ready spirit has been Maritime Singapore’s edge – and will in my view continue to be.

Smart Ships – It’s all about adding value

6 A key element in being a future-ready maritime industry is the pursuit of advanced research and technology. Our industry has traditionally focused on optimising existing hardware and operations to, for example, reduce bunker consumption, emissions, marine fouling and many others – as a way to reduce costs. But what we really need is to identify more ways in which to add LONG TERM value, in an industry traditionally focused on short-term ‘’here and now’’ measures.

7 Progress made to date has been largely incremental in the search for greater efficiencies. What we need is a game-changing approach for a new era of shipping and sustainability.

8 Sea Asia’s latest study (conducted in the lead up to Sea Asia 2017) reveals that nine out of ten maritime leaders surveyed support the industry’s move towards smart shipping. Another 81 per cent recognise the importance of Big Data to the future of the shipping and the maritime industry .

9 With enabling digital competencies such as data analytics and robotics, smart ship technologies present an emerging opportunity to change the way ships operate. Migrating from physical ship to digital ship, the last few years have seen ship owners and operators ever more curious about the potential of digitalised data. This has reaped several benefits as analysed data helps to guide decisions and policies to enable evidence-based asset health management and ship performance optimisation.

10 Just like what my good friend Mr Steen Brodsgaard Lund of DNV GL said during last year’s SMI Forum: The data is nothing, it’s the algorithms that matter and allow us to make more intelligent decisions than what we can today. Advanced technological tools need to be coupled with competent and bright talent to further strengthen the sustainability and long-term proposition for maritime businesses.

Competent Talent – We need them

11 This hard fact remains our Achilles’ heel today. The maritime industry is facing a shortage of competent talent and a skilled workforce. The accessible talent pool of seafaring knowledge and experience is shrinking along with naval architecture and other maritime skill sets. This leaves us with a higher risk profile whereby inexperienced personnel are manning and operating ships. Nonetheless, the many initiatives undertaken by the MPA to address this issue – be it Future Ready, Skills Future or other initiatives under Maritime One – I am confident that we are on the right track in this vital area.

12 We should view this situation as a driver for automation and autonomy in the form of intelligent and smart ships. With the removal of people from tasks that are of lower value and dangerous in nature, we can better optimise manpower resource while enhancing productivity and safety.

13 Our vision for autonomous smart ships should not be one that is fully mechanised but one with a human heart. The human element should never be removed entirely from the equation. Instead, it must remain at the core of smart ship technologies and operations.

14 This is similarly reflected in Rolls-Royce’s recently revealed vision of shore-based control centres for remote operations of unmanned fleet . The remote monitoring and control is performed by a minimal team of shore-based professionals comprising of roles and talents that are unconventional in the maritime domain. They may include Network & Communications Specialists, Asset Integrity Engineers and Fleet Data Scientists, which draws upon a very different suite of knowledge and skill sets altogether.

Research & Technology – Deepen and integrate

15 To help us achieve our vision for the future era of smart ships, advanced technologies will be required to create that perfect human-machine interface. Existing broad-based technologies today are highly advanced and accessible. We have seen the impact, for example, of smart phones and the upcoming trend of smart homes and cars. It is time for the maritime community to start embracing the concept of smart ships.

16 Of course, smart ships will bring about a new set of technical, regulatory and even legislative challenges and concerns such as cyber security and potential threats of terrorism, all of which will need to be carefully addressed.

17 We have seen how research & technology has influenced the thinking at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in respect of regulatory requirements. Similarly, Singapore needs to deepen its research capabilities and apply them to the integration of relevant technologies – to address the challenges and needs behind smart ships.

18 Core technologies and their enabling capabilities should be developed closely through the establishment of maritime research centres of excellence, which the SMI has planned for in the near future. These may include technology groups like advanced materials, sensors, robotics, data analytics and communications.


19 Singapore is a research intensive innovation capital in the region. R&D platforms and initiatives like today’s event will help facilitate the coming together of the various players in the maritime community to brainstorm ideas and opportunities. This is exactly what the annual Singapore Maritime Week is all about, as shared by Mr S.S. Teo earlier. Working collaboratively and in a structured and coordinated way will be crucial – and Singapore excels in this approach as we all know so well.

20 I would like to thank the SMI for giving me this kind opportunity to share on the topic of smart ships and how it can add value to the shipping industry with advanced digital competencies. The future looks truly exciting!