Accidents in Singapore’s waters: Ships detected but not monitored

KENNETH CHENG Today Online 2 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE — The vessels involved in two recent maritime accidents in Singapore’s waters were detected by a network of sensors used by the Republic of Singapore Navy’s Maritime Security Task Force (MSTF). However, they were not closely monitored by the taskforce as the vessels did not pose a potential security threat.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament on Monday (Oct 2) that the United States warship USS John S McCain and tanker Alnic MC were both detected in Singapore’s waters off Pedra Branca on Aug 21.

The crash between the two ships killed 10 US Navy servicemen.

Singapore’s naval vessel RSS Gallant, which had been patrolling the waters, had also established contact with the warship in line with standard procedures, Dr Ng added.

In another accident on Sept 13, dredger JBB De Rong 19 and tanker Kartika Segara were detected and identified before they collided off Sisters’ Island.

“In both these incidents, none of the ships were designated as potential threats to security, and correctly so. As such, in compliance with standard protocols, they did not require close monitoring by the MSTF,” Dr Ng said.

The taskforce’s key focus is on potential threats to Singapore, while the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) oversees the navigation of ships in Singapore’s waters, he explained.

The master and crew on board the vessels were responsible for guiding their ships safely through waters, in accordance with the rules of navigation under the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.

Dr Ng was responding to a question by Sembawang GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Vikram Nair on the MSTF’s assessment of Singapore’s capabilities in surveilling maritime traffic, and the country’s ability to respond when commercial vessels in or entering Singapore’s waters may be used by terrorists.

The MPA had told The Straits Times previously that its vessel traffic information system had not detected the USS John S McCain until the Alnic MC, carrying 12,000 tonnes of fuel oil, delivered a crushing blow to the left side of the warship.

Later, the Transport Safety Investigation Bureau disclosed that the vessel traffic information system had detected both ships on the MPA’s radar. This was after the bureau reviewed the system’s recordings.

The MPA’s system also received the signal from Alnic MC’s automatic identification system (AIS), but it did not get any such signal from the warship. Put differently, the positions of the two ships were known, but the system did not have more information on the warship, such as its name and vessel type.

In addition to radar, traffic information systems rely on data from the AIS, which all but the smallest commercial vessels have to use to broadcast information on their whereabouts. Military vessels typically carry the system, but often turn it off because the captains do not wish to reveal too much information.

Dr Ng said on Monday that an international convention mandating the use of the AIS to detect ships at sea does not apply to warships. However, such ships, and those which do not comply with vessel identification, can still be detected by the MSTF’s network of coastal surveillance radars and electro-optic devices.

In the second accident between JBB De Rong 19 and the Kartika Segara, the MPA’s vessel traffic information system had provided navigational information and warnings to both vessels to take preventive action to avoid a collision. The vessels acknowledged the information provided, but the collision could not be averted, the MPA said previously.

In Parliament, MP Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) also asked if the MPA’s vessel traffic information system would be reviewed to improve navigational safety and security in Singapore’s waters.

In response, Senior Minister of State (Transport) Lam Pin Min said that the system, which was installed in 2011 and can track more than 10,000 vessels concurrently, is enhanced regularly. It was upgraded early this year.

Every day, the Singapore port receives an average of 380 vessels, or nearly 139,000 vessels a year. More than 84,000 vessels transited through the Singapore Strait last year, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a written reply to a question by Workers’ Party Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan.

In spite of the heavy traffic, the number of major incidents has fallen over the years, from 13 in 2011 to one each in 2015 and last year, Mr Khaw added.

Up until the middle of last month, 101,705 vessels have called at Singapore’s port, while 58,458 vessels have transited through the Singapore Strait.

Maritime Security Task Force monitors vessels found to have ‘malignant intent’: Ng Eng Hen
Aqil Haziq Mahmud Channel NewsAsia 2 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE: The Maritime Security Task Force (MSTF) closely monitors and could even board vessels that are found to have ill-intent towards Singapore, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament on Monday (Oct 2).

Dr Ng was responding to Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC Vikram Nair, who had asked about Singapore’s ability to deal with terrorists who might use commercial vessels entering Singapore.

Calling it a pertinent question, Dr Ng said: “If we had, for example, pre-emptive information that a particular ship was carrying either illegal cargo or had malignant intent towards Singapore, it could amount to boarding the ship or keeping it under close surveillance.”

Dr Ng said MSTF conducts a daily threat evaluation for every vessel calling into Singapore’s ports or transiting through the Singapore Straits.

The MSTF monitors close to 1,000 ships passing through the Singapore Strait every day through sensors like costal surveillance radars, electro-optic devices and patrolling Republic of Singapore Navy vessels, he added.

“MSTF does this by deploying analytic tools to build profiles of each vessel based on attributes such as their voyage, owners, crew and cargo, as well as additional data shared by government agencies,” he explained.

The information is fed to the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre (SMCC), which “leverages technology to analyse information, detect suspicious patterns and cue relevant agencies to investigate and take action”.

Citing a 2015 incident, the Minister said SMCC detected a potential ISIS sympathiser on board a tanker calling on Singapore and subsequently barred the individual from entering the country.

“In dealing with terror threats at and from the sea, Singapore adopts a Whole-of-Government approach to ensure comprehensive coverage of varied scenarios as well as co-ordinated responses,” he added.

When it comes to exercises, Dr Ng said MSTF plays out various scenarios including those that might involve hostage situations on board cruise ships or cargo ships.

“The planners and our security agencies, together with the other agencies under the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre, do play out these scenarios, and we have over the years stepped up the level of exercises and there’s a certain level of competency,” he added.

However, Dr Ng warned that not “all attacks can be mitigated”.

“If they are suicide attacks, sometimes it’s difficult, for example, to stop them,” he said. “But this is a situation where you continue to look at the scenarios, continue to exercise and continue to anticipate.”

It is even more important to prevent disruptions to sea traffic along the Singapore Strait, Dr Ng said, as half of the world’s total annual sea-borne trade and almost three-quarters of Asia’s oil imports pass through the Republic’s waterways.

“Ensuring maritime security for our ports and surrounding waters is of high priority to Singapore,” he added.

SHIPS IN RECENT COLLISIONS “DETECTED AND IDENTIFIED”

Meanwhile, Dr Ng clarified that the ships involved in the two collisions that occurred within weeks of each other were detected and identified by sensors.

On Aug 21, the USS John McCain and Alnic MC collided off the coast of Singapore, while the Kartika Segara and JBB De Rong 19 collided on Sep 13 off Sisters’ Island.

“In both these incidents, none of the ships were designated as potential threats to security, and correctly so,” Dr Ng said.

To that end, he said the ships did not require close monitoring by MSTF, adding that the ships’ master and crew were responsible for their safe passage.

Dr Ng said: “The various parties involved with the collision will now have to investigate what went wrong and what remedial actions to take if necessary.”
Source: CNA/ad


Parliament: Vessels in fatal collisions in Singapore waters were detected, and not deemed potential security threats
Nur Asyiqin and Mohamad Salleh Straits Times 2 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE - The vessels involved in two separate fatal collisions in the Singapore Strait had been detected and identified by Singapore's network of maritime sensors, but were not designated as potential threats to security, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Monday (Oct 2).

This was rightly so, he told Parliament, adding that this meant the vessels did not require close monitoring by the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) Maritime Security Task Force.

By the rules of navigation under the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, the master and crew of the four vessels were responsible to guide their ships safely through, added Dr Ng.

"The various parties involved with the collision will now have to investigate what went wrong and what remedial actions to take if necessary," he said, noting that the Transport Safety Investigation Bureau is conducting an investigation and will make its findings public.

In the case of United States warship, USS John S. McCain, and Liberian-registered oil tanker Alnic MC, which collided on Aug 21, killing 10 sailors on the warship, both were detected in Singapore waters off Pedra Branca, noted Dr Ng.

The RSN vessel RSS Gallant, which was patrolling Singapore waters, had also established communications with the foreign warship as part of standard procedures, he added.

As for the case of dredger JBB De Rong 19 and tanker Kartika Segara, both were detected and identified prior to their collision on Sept 13, which took place within Singapore waters off Sisters' Island, said Dr Ng.

He was responding to Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), who wanted an assessment of Singapore's maritime surveillance capabilities following these incidents.

Mr Vikram also asked about Singapore's ability to respond to scenarios where vessels in or entering Singapore waters might be used by terrorists.

Dr Ng pointed out that terrorists can target ships in Singapore waters, or attacks from the sea, as they did in the Mumbai attack in 2008, when militants armed with AK-47 assault rifles and hand grenades, arrived by sea.

He spoke of Singapore's comprehensive approach to ensure coordinated response when it comes to dealing with such terror threats. The Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre (SMCC), which brings together the RSN, the Police Coast Guard, the Singapore Civil Defence Force, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, the Maritime and Port Authority, and the Singapore Customs, was set up in 2011.

The centre maintains a comprehensive picture of the maritime situation, shares information between agencies, and coordinates responses to deal with potential threats, tapping technology to analyse information, detect suspicious patterns and cue relevant agencies to investigate and take action.

It had, in 2015, detected a potential Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sympathiser who was on board a tanker calling on Singapore, said Dr Ng, noting that the individual was barred from entering Singapore.

In another case in 2016, the centre got information about a hijacked tanker. This information was shared with the Indonesian authorities as the vessel was in their waters.

"This led to the ship's rescue, and, in that case, the hijack was not linked to any terror intent," said Dr Ng.

The Maritime Security Task Force feeds information - obtained from monitoring close to 1,000 ships passing through the Singapore Strait each day through a network of sensors - to the crisis centre.

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) had also asked whether there will be a review of the Vessel Traffic Information System (VTIS), which is used to communicate with vessels and monitor shipping traffic, to enhance safety and security following the two collisions.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min said the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), which operates the system, carries out regular enhancements to it.

The VTIS integrates data from various sources, including radars, the Automatic Identification System, Closed Circuit TV system, Very High Frequency communications system and ship databases, to provide an accurate and comprehensive understanding of traffic, he said.

"With the capability to concurrently track more than 10,000 vessels, the VTIS enables MPA to provide timely information and advice to help vessels transit safely through the Singapore Strait, as well as manage traffic within our port waters, where there are some 1,000 vessels at any one time."

The system, which was installed in 2011, was upgraded early this year, Dr Lam added.

"Enhancing navigational safety is an important priority for MPA," he said, noting that MPA also seeks to improve the practice of good seamanship through conferences on navigational safety, and the establishment of the National Maritime Safety at Sea Council, among other things.

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