Posted on January 15, 2024
Singapore’s port handled a record 39.01 million shipping containers, or twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), in 2023, eclipsing its previous record of 37.57 million TEUs in 2021, said Acting Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat.
In 2022, the port handled 37.29 million TEUs.
In all, Singapore’s terminals handled 591.7 million tonnes of cargo in 2023, an increase from 578.2 million tonnes in 2022. But this is still lower than the 626.5 million tonnes of cargo that passed through Singapore in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
Speaking at the Singapore Maritime Foundation New Year Conversations, a yearly maritime industry event, at the Pan Pacific Singapore hotel on Jan 12, Mr Chee also said Singapore’s port reached a record high in arriving ship traffic in 2023, recording 3.09 billion annual gross tons in vessel arrivals.
Annual vessel arrival tonnage – or the internal volume of all ships that arrive in a year, including their engine room and non-cargo spaces – is a common maritime industry measure of vessel traffic calling at a port.
In 2023, 51.82 million tonnes of bunker sales were registered, breaking the previous record of 50.64 million tonnes in 2017, according to figures released by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) on Jan 12.
Bunkering refers to the process of supplying fuels to ships.
As part of Singapore’s maritime decarbonisation efforts, bunker sales of biofuel blends increased to 520,000 tonnes in 2023. This is a more than threefold increase from the sales recorded in 2022 (140,000 tonnes), said MPA.
These blends combine biofuel produced from biomass, such as agricultural and industry biowaste, with conventional marine fuel.
MPA said total business spending by key maritime companies it oversees exceeded $4.8 billion in 2023, an increase from $4.3 billion in 2022.
In 2023, 25 maritime companies of various sizes established or expanded their operations in Singapore.
The total tonnage of ships registered in Singapore in 2023 reached 99.6 million gross tons, up 4 per cent from 95.4 million gross tons in 2022, said MPA.
This means that the Singapore Registry of Ships remains one of the largest ship registries in the world, said MPA.
Mr Chee said the registry can expect to reach the milestone of 100 million gross tons in early 2024.
MPA said it is also studying the development of a system to track the activities of maritime drones in Singapore’s waters and ensure the safety of port users. No other details were available.
It will assist ships to catch up with their schedules should the supply chain disruptions continue, and has issued advisories on security plans and risk mitigation to Singapore-registered vessels navigating high-risk areas.
The Israel-Hamas war has spilled over to the Red Sea and affected ships sailing through the Suez Canal.
Four of the world’s five largest shipping companies have paused or cancelled services in the Red Sea since Dec 15, 2023, avoiding the Suez Canal over security concerns after attacks on commercial ships by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
About 12 per cent of global trade, including up to 30 per cent of container traffic, passes through the Suez Canal – the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia that connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. The disruption to operations has led to longer delivery times and higher freight costs.
Mr Chee said the maritime industry can expect “some rough seas ahead” in the midst of challenges such as a slowing global economy, inflationary pressures and “weak consumer sentiment” as a result of the lagging economy. Added to that are disruptions to trade flows and supply chains from geopolitical uncertainty and climate change.
To help businesses navigate these headwinds, he announced that MPA will, from April 1, waive the need for security deposits and banker’s guarantees for the payment of port fees from billing parties assessed to be of lower credit risk.
Currently, ocean-going vessels calling at Singapore’s port that are charged more than $5,000 annually in port fees must furnish MPA with a security deposit or banker’s guarantee to prevent payment defaults.
Separately, at the event on Jan 12, Mr Hor Weng Yew, chairman of the Singapore Maritime Foundation, announced the establishment of the first maritime mediators’ panel, a tie-up between the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration and the Singapore International Mediation Centre.
The panel will pave the way for the adoption of commercial mediation for maritime and shipping disputes, said the foundation.
Associate Professor Yap Wei Yim, head of the maritime management minor at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, said the industry’s strong performance in 2023 points to its post-pandemic recovery.
Noting that the growth rate for vessel arrival tonnage in 2023 was the highest in more than a decade, Prof Yap said this cements Singapore’s position as the busiest port in the world based on this measure.
The expansion of the Singapore Registry of Ships also lends credence to Singapore in being “a major voice for international shipping”, as well as at key international groups such as the International Maritime Organisation, of which the Republic is a council member, he added.
“More importantly, I understand it is the intention of the registry to be a flag of quality and not only in numbers, hence its initiatives to promote green ships and green shipping,” said Prof Yap.