You are here

2004: Boxing Day tsunami brings death, destruction

Lee Hsien Loong becomes PM; China Aviation Oil reveals scandal.


AN earthquake in the Indian Ocean on Dec 26, 2004 turned into one of the deadliest natural disasters in history as it unleashed a deadly tsunami that was estimated to have killed more than 200,000 people in 14 countries and destroyed coastal towns from Africa to Indonesia.

The horror started with an underwater earthquake at about 9am off the western coast of Sumatra that had a magnitude of about 9.0 and was felt in surrounding countries, including Singapore. Over the next several minutes and hours, the first waves of the ensuing tsunami began to hit coastlines.

The waves, which rose as high as 30 metres in Aceh and reached as far as two kilometres inland, surprised many coastal inhabitants who did not realise that the slow moving waves of water were nevertheless relentless and extremely powerful. Lives were lost, homes and possessions were swept up and damaged, and livelihoods washed away.

Singapore was spared from the tsunami, many of its neighbours were not. The nation and its people joined the rest of the world in humanitarian efforts to help those affected. A tsunami warning system was also set up to try to avert another disaster.

On the domestic front, 2004 was also the year when Lee Hsien Loong became Singapore's third post-independence Prime Minister.

In his swearing-in speech, PM Lee promised to focus on the economy and the young, and to build a more inclusive and accommodative society.

Markets also had an eventful year, most notably the shocking revelation that market darling China Aviation Oil (CAO) had concealed massive derivative losses. The debacle pushed the company to the brink of collapse and sent its then-chief executive Chen Jiulin to prison.

Before the scandal, CAO was the poster child for the success of a rapidly growing pool of China-based companies listing in Singapore. After the scandal, it became the poster child for poorly governed S-chips.

The Business Times has been there to report and analyse the most significant news since 1976. Every week, this feature will showcase excerpts from the biggest stories for each year that the paper has been in operation. The full text of all the stories can be found online at