STRAIT TALK

Tackling the big issues to thrive, post-Covid

The shipping industry has a steep learning curve ahead as it learns to live with the virus

THIS year's Singapore Maritime Week (SMW) is being billed as "pushing new frontiers in resilience, digitalisation, decarbonisation and talent".

This year's SMW, the 15th such event, takes place next week and is being organised by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), in collaboration with industry stakeholders and research and educational institutions.

SMW will bring together industry experts and thought leaders in the maritime sector to "discuss the changing face of the industry, and explore solutions that will enable the industry to thrive in the post-Covid-19 environment".

It is absolutely right to take this opportunity to look ahead. But we must also remember that we are not yet in a post-Covid-19 environment. Indeed, the scientific consensus seems to be that we will never be in that happy situation.

Rather we will have to learn to live with the virus for the foreseeable future, just as we do with influenza. That means the shipping industry has a steep learning curve ahead.

So an emphasis on resilience is very appropriate, the more so as Singapore has been leading the way in handling crew changes in a Covid-secure way.

The next big task for global shipping is to develop a "Covid passport" that allows easy travel for crews to and from their ships. That could be a protracted process with increased concern about new variants of the virus and the realisation that vaccination does not necessarily prevent virus transmission.

With "New Frontiers, Shifting Paradigms" as its theme, SMW is intended to provide a platform for maritime leaders to discuss new opportunities and key competencies for Singapore to achieve its vision of a global maritime hub for connectivity, innovation and talent.

Now, there is a lot going on next week. The MPA says there will be 19 events taking place through a mix of virtual and hybrid formats. That hybrid approach is in itself a reminder that we are still in the midst of a pandemic.

Nevertheless, it is important to look beyond, which is what Minister for Transport, Ong Ye Kung, will do at the opening ceremony on Monday when he launches the second phase of digitalPORT@SGTM. This will progressively roll out a just-in-time (JIT) module for port stakeholders such as shipowners, agents, terminal operators and marine service providers. This is intended to enhance the turnaround time of ships calling at the Port of Singapore, increase port efficiency and reduce business costs.

With so much going on, it will be necessary to be selective in deciding which events to attend, depending on your particular interest. However, the 15th Singapore Maritime Lecture should be the top priority.

It will focus on the major challenges facing the industry and emerging opportunities for growth with the transformation of international trade. A keynote speech by MISC Berhad President and CEO Yee Yang Chien will discuss "Making the Future Possible".

Staying ahead in the new normal

A discussion on "How Can the Maritime Sector Transform through Digitalisation and Decarbonisation to Stay Ahead in the New Normal?" will be followed by a panel including several top shipping industry figures: BHP's chief commercial officer, Vandita Pant; DHL consulting's global practice lead for supply chain and analytics practice, Pang Mei Yee; and president of the Association of Singapore Marine Industries and head of research and development at Sembcorp Marine, Simon Kuik.

Equally, Friday's inaugural International Maritime Organization (IMO)-Singapore Future of Shipping Conference is another key SMW event.

Maritime stakeholders will share views on a coordinated global approach and new opportunities for safer, cleaner and more efficient shipping. IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim will open the conference with keynote speeches.

Once again, the conference features a top flight panel of speakers: vice president of BP Shipping's operated fleet, Nicholas Ryan; vice president, head of research and development, two-stroke of Man Energy Solutions, Brian Ostergaard Sorensen; chairman of BW Group and co-chair of the International Advisory Panel on Maritime Decarbonisation, Andreas Sohmen-Pao; and president and CEO of Sembcorp Marine and co-chair of the International Advisory Panel on Maritime Decarbonisation, Wong Weng Sun.

In another example of how maritime in Singapore is adapting to the current pandemic, Sea Asia, an anchor event at SMW since its inception, will return as a hybrid trade event as a precursor for its main show in September this year. It provides a platform for exhibitors and sponsors to connect and engage with its target audiences.

It is difficult to disagree with MPA chief executive, Quah Ley Hoon, who said: "The maritime industry is at a critical juncture, with resilience, digitalisation, decarbonisation and talent development at the forefront of change for sustainable growth. SMW 2021 is an opportune moment for the industry to come together to share knowledge and best practices in these areas to drive effective industry transformation."

There will be a huge amount of food for thought arising from next week's 19 events and, it is to be hoped, new ideas on taking the industry though these difficult times.

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