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The Marine Roots in Singapore

The marine industry in Singapore owes its roots to its location as centre for entrepot trade. Tracing this rich history, it became that many prominent sailors had berthed and traversed through the Keppel Harbour waterway - the waterway between Tanjong Pagar and Tanjong Berlayer and Sentosa Island. Increasingly, over time, many ships began calling at Singapore and many needed docking and repair facilities. In 1859, Captain William Cloughton built the island's first graving dock on the north side of the harbour. Known as Dock No. 1, it was joined eight years later by Dock No. 2, and then followed by the Victoria and Albert Docks.

The brisk business that followed and the steady profits that was racked in gave impetus to the formation of the New Harbour Dock Company in 1899 that began monopolizing the port and shipping business. This led later to the formation of the Tanjong Pagar Dock Board in 1913 under the jurisdiction of the Singapore Harbour Board when new facilities were built. Business continued to flourish and after World War II, another extensive expansion programme was mounted and in 1956, the Queen's Dock was opened with great success.


Facilities, Processes and Skill-Set Transformation

From the facilities made available from the naval base in Sembawang and the early docks of Keppel Harbour, new shipyard facilities were set up from 1963 onwards in the newly created Jurong Industrial Estate and along the Tanjong Rhu basin. In line with this, mass training schemes for the workforce were implemented to build the core skill levels in the various shipyard trades. Apprenticeship schemes were also introduced which trained the first groups of front line supervisors and middle management. The local yards under the purview of foreign management rapidly developed their expertise to further their exploits in shiprepair, shipbuilding and rigbuilding.

The early 1970s saw the start of localisation of management in the various yards. This impetus resulted in making the industry a truly indigenous one to Singapore. The advent of computers in the 1980s brought about CAD/CAM. The shipyards quickly embraced this new technology and work processes were rationalised accordingly giving rise to improvement in quality, productivity and timeliness. The mid 1980s also saw the relocation of the Tanjong Rhu yards to the Jurong area. This was joined by several of the major shipyards investing in new facilities to modernise and increase capacity.

As the industry evolved towards higher value added and more sophisticated jobs such as those in the conversion and offshore sectors, there was an increasing need for increased skilled tradesmen. New training programmes developed with ITE and PSB were put into place. Safety training was also given primary emphasis.

To further improve the industry's competitiveness and respond to the new demands of technically more complex jobs, continuous skills upgrading and multi-skilling was carried out. For supervisors and engineers, new skills such as project management were imparted in addition to basic supervisory skills. The Certified Marine Supervisor course developed with PSB and the Marine Group LIUP prepares the supervisor to take on additional responsibilities of the Marine Industry of the future. The industry continues to place priority on training and development of manpower at all levels.


Products & Services Transformation

Building of tugboats and barges, and the repairing of small and medium sized ships dominated the marine scene in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, the first VLCCs were repaired. This period also saw the birth of the offshore rigbuilding industry with the construction of a first generation jackup rig. Ship conversion started to find its place in the industry as shipyards extended their capabilities beyond shiprepair. On the shipbuilding scene, different types of vessels such as crane ships, multi-purpose vessels, LPG carriers, container ships and tin dredgers were built. On the offshore front, the expertise honed from building a whole variety of drilling rigs of increasing complexity and size allowed Singapore to become the number one jack-up rigbuilder in the world today.

Repair of VLCCs was the mainstay of the repair yards' activities in the 1970s and 1980s with jobs increasing in complexity to include jumboisations, extensive damaged repairs and life extensions. The types of ships that has undergone repairs also increased in variety to include gas carriers, chemicals and LPG tankers and passenger ships. Naval ship repairs and construction also found its place in the Industry where specialised skills were developed for this sector of the Industry.

The 1980s also saw the start of conversions of tankers into Floating Production Storage Offloading (FPSO) vessels. Over the years, the size and complexity of these FPSOs have grown and Singapore yards have responded well to market needs to become the world leader in this field today.

The offshore construction sector continued to increase its prowess with the construction and conversions of the latest generation drilling rigs and floating production platforms. Some of the world's largest and most advanced units were built or converted by Singapore yards.

Today, the industry boasts of a comprehensive product mix of repairs services, conversions and new constructions in both the marine, offshore and naval markets for an international clientele.


Corporate Transformation

From such humble beginnings, the marine industry began to take its present form when through several government initiatives, the first commercial major repair yards were set up between 1963 and 1972. These major yards were also supplemented by smaller yards sprouted by spirited local entrepreneurs.

The growth of oil and gas activities in the region started to promote offshore rigbuilding activities in the late 1960s. Through gradual inception of technology and skills, Singapore was able to develop itself to become a leading oil rigbuilder since the 1980s. Supporting marine services companies join the shipyards to offer comprehensive ship repair services thereby propelling Singapore to become a leading ship repair centre.

To compete against lower cost and emerging countries, the marine industry underwent a phase of consolidation and relocation which, whilst keeping in line with Singapore's economic and land-use plans, allowed the Industry to maintain its competitiveness. Keeping attuned to market demands, the industry quickly extended its scope to include also ship and offshore conversions and has today made a name for itself as the world leader in FPSO conversions with a market share of over 70%.

The industry has increasingly moved towards the area of capital intensive and knowledge-based work. Yards are able to offer complete solutions with proprietary designs and products that are some of the world's best in class. The industry has shown itself to have the resilience to ride the economic cycles, coming out of each cycle to attain new revenue highs. It is today a major contributor to the Singapore economy and is the hotbed for development of skilled manpower and managerial talent in the engineering field. The shipyards have come of age, being able to export its expertise abroad to bring a global dimension to the Industry.


The Future

Going forward, the marine industry will continue to position itself as a global centre for ship repair, ship conversion, offshore construction and specialised shipbuilding. It will leverage on Singapore's good infrastructure and critical mass already built up by the shipyards and supporting companies to further entrench its position as a global leader. The industry will continue to focus on more complex and high value jobs and enhance its capability as a solution provider. Investments in both human resource development and new state-of-art facilities will provide the foundations to bring the industry to a new competitive level that will allow it to be relevant in the coming decades.

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