Best of our wild blogs: 19 Feb 13

Green Drinks: The Population White Paper and Implications on the Environment
from Green Drinks Singapore

23 Feb (Sat): Talk on "Secret Shores of Singapore" at Woodlands Library from wild shores of singapore

The Challenge To Educate and Save
from Gamefish And Aquatic Rehabiliation Society

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Shipping slump? Not for our ports

Jonathan Kwok Straits Times 19 Feb 13;

CASUAL observers of the global maritime sector will be familiar with the five-year shipping slump, which has seen many smaller firms go under, be forced to consolidate or be acquired by larger liners.

Since 2008, even the most well-known global container liner firms have been hit, with profits well down - if they are even making money at all.

The giants generally suffered losses in 2009, before a tentative recovery helped them to flip to the black in 2010. 2011 turned out to be another loss-making year for most liners with the recoveries coming only in the later part of last year.

The financial figures have see-sawed in such a pattern at Singapore's Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) and Denmark's Maersk Line, the world's biggest container shipping operator.

The recent tough times were highlighted in a recent note by offshore specialist DNB Bank, which declared that "we have just entered the sixth year of the shipping downturn".

However, Singapore's port has managed to pack in strong growth during the same years of the shipping downturn, growing strongly on several measures used to chart port performance.

Vessel arrival tonnage - a measure of the combined capacity of ships calling here - has risen almost 40 per cent since 2008, to last year's estimated 2.25 billion gross tonnes.

And the sale of bunker fuel has grown over 20 per cent in this period, to about 42.7 million tonnes last year.

Singapore is tops worldwide in both these measures, and the numbers make for encouraging reading for the maritime sector, which employs more than 170,000 people and contributes to 7 per cent of economic output.


SO WHY the incongruence between the downbeat fates of the shipping lines and the strong growth in Singapore's port?

The basic reason lies in the vastly different economics underpinning the ports and shipping sectors.

Essentially the key problem facing the shipping firms is that they ordered too many new ships in the boom years leading up to 2008. This excessive optimism led to an oversupply of ships when the new builds were eventually delivered.

With all the glittering new vessels lying around, the shipping companies tried to gain market share by slicing freight rates - but this in turn bit hard into bottom lines and even forced some firms into the red.

"Container shipping, in an oversupply situation, is a commoditised business," NOL's chief executive officer Ng Yat Chung said last year.

This means that firms tend to compete on price and customers have many providers to pick and choose from. High fuel costs are also a headache for the liners.

But underlying all this, global trade was growing every year except in 2009. In 2011, when shipping firms were awash in red, the volume of world merchandise trade grew 5 per cent and the World Trade Organisation expects 2.5 per cent growth last year and a 4.5 per cent rise this year.

Asian trade growth has been even faster, helping Singapore's port and competitors like Shanghai and Malaysia to grow their businesses.

While Singapore's port has done well to distinguish itself, it still faces key challenges that it has to overcome in order to grow further.

Land constraints

SINGAPORE'S container terminals are run by PSA Corp and located at Tanjong Pagar, Keppel, Brani and Pasir Panjang. A port in Jurong handles "bulk" cargo not carried in containers, such as steel products, cement and copper slag.

Together, these facilities occupy about 600ha of space - just a fraction of Singapore's total land area of 714.3 sq km, or 71,400ha.

Still the sector, like all other industries, faces the challenge to raise productivity while using as little land as possible.

It is encouraging then that the Government is planning way ahead in this aspect. It has outlined a longer-term scheme to concentrate port activities in Tuas.

The upcoming Tuas Port will sit on 1,700ha of reclaimed land, according to the Government's recently released Land Use Plan.

The City Terminals - those at Tanjong Pagar, Keppel and Brani - will move to Tuas after the lease for their land expires in 2027.

"This consolidation will increase efficiency through greater economies of scale and provide the opportunity to introduce new technology and processes to meet the future challenges of container shipping," said Mr Lam Yi Young, chief executive of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, which is the statutory board overseeing the sector.

The plan is for Tuas Port to be able to handle up to 65 million standard-sized containers every year - more than double the 31.6 million containers handled last year.

The Government is sourcing for novel ideas to design Tuas Port. It launched a global contest with a US$1 million (S$1.24 million) top prize to design a new-age container port last year, with winners expected to be announced this year.

Regional competition

WHILE the land issue can be solved by careful planning and innovation, competition poses a larger challenge as the ball may not be in Singapore's court.

The Republic's main business is in trans-shipment - meaning the vast majority of cargo arriving here is promptly loaded onto another ship to be moved elsewhere.

The other main trans-shipment hubs in the region are Hong Kong and Johor's Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP).

As if these are not enough, other countries are also not sitting idly by.

Ports in South Korea and China have been looking to catch up, and Indonesia is starting on a new trans-shipment port in Tanjung Sauh, an island between Batam and Bintan. This is set to challenge Singapore, as PTP has done.

Overseas ports may offer lower rates than Singapore, and some have succeeded in luring shipping lines over. For instance, PTP attracted Maersk and Evergreen Marine Corp - the second largest shipping firm - to move much of their operations there from 2000 to 2002.

The moves worried Singapore's economic planners for a while, but they are now comforted that Singapore's volumes have remained ahead of most of its regional competitors', PTP included.

Threats will exist in the longer term if other cities replicate Singapore's maritime eco-system, but the consensus is the Republic's lunch should be safe in the short to medium term if it continues to raise productivity while maintaining a pro-business environment.

After all, developing a hub like Singapore's will take many years. In recent years, Singapore has also managed to fend off competition by a mix of planning and good fortune.

In terms of planning, the Government has managed to grow a "maritime cluster" including ship financing, shipbroking, legal and technical services, research capabilities and manpower development, so that all the business needs of firms can be satisfied.

This complements the wide network of shipping lines that call here - a "hub effect" that allows firms to easily transfer cargo to another company's ship to be moved elsewhere. This has given Singapore's port an edge over South-east Asian competitors such as Malaysia's PTP.

Good luck comes in the form of Singapore's location which has provided an advantage over its other main competitor Hong Kong, which is grappling in recent years with China's slowing growth. South-east Asia and South Asia are seeing more business and production work, which is benefiting Singapore.

"There's more manufacturing being done in Vietnam and in Bangladesh for items like textiles," said Mr Andrew Chiang, regional head of Asia for shipping, offshore and logistics at DNB Bank. "As these countries have less developed ports they usually use the port in Singapore (to ship the goods farther away)."

The result is that Singapore's container-handling numbers last year grew more than those of any regional competitor.

Singapore's figures grew 5.7 per cent to 31.6 million containers - more than PTP's 2.9 per cent - while Hong Kong's port volumes actually contracted by 5.3 per cent.

The world's top container handling port is Shanghai but it is more of an end-destination port for moving goods in and out of China. This means it is not a direct competitor to Singapore's trans-shipment operations, but Singapore still managed to close the gap on it last year.

Shanghai's volumes grew 2.5 per cent, less than Singapore's 5.7 per cent.

"It is easy to copy some measures like financial incentives, but harder for others," said Mr Chiang. "If viewed as a package, the competition is hard pressed to replicate Singapore's success."

The challenges of land and competition may appear daunting but the country should overcome them - in the medium term at least - through foresight, continued careful planning, and a good dose of luck.

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Malaysia-Singapore Rapid Transit System gets the green light

Nelson Benjamin The Star 19 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE: Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to go ahead with the Rapid Transit System (RTS) linking Johor Baru with the republic.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said both countries had a year to draft the plans on the preferred option for the RTS.

He added that under phase one, the alignment and station scheme options would be identified.

“Once this is decided, we can move to phase two,” Anifah said during a briefing on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's two-day working visit to Singapore which began yesterday.

It is learnt that among the options being considered is a bridge or an underground tunnel link.

Singapore had earlier announced that its Thomson mass rapid transit (MRT) line would be opened in stages from 2019.

The 30km line will run through the north-south corridor of the island republic, starting in Woodlands, the area closest to Johor Baru via the Causeway, and passing through industrial, residential and shopping districts before ending at Marina Bay.

The S$18bil (RM44bil) line will be completely underground and is expected to serve 400,000 commuters daily.

Anifah said leaders from both countries were expected to discuss the progress and implementation of the Points of Agreement.

“Both leaders will also travel to Iskandar Malaysia in Johor to launch the ground-breaking ceremony of the Urban and Resort Wellness project.

He added that it involved a 2ha “Urban Wellness” project in Medini North and a 84ha “Resort Wellness” in Medini Central.

Other issues to be discussed include cooperation in aviation and airport services between Senai and Changi airports as well as the establishment of ferry and water taxi services between Puteri Har-bour in Iskandar and Tuas in Singapore.

Anifah added that there was steady progress in the implementation of initiatives under the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia including in transport, immigration, tourism, environment and industrial cooperation.

Malaysia-Singapore high-speed rail link
The Star 20 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE: Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to build a high-speed rail link between the city state and Kuala lumpur.

The link will cut travelling time between the two destinations to just 90 minutes, from the hours it now takes by rail and road.

The two countries also agreed on a rapid transit system linking Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit system with Johor Baru.

Both Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his counterpart Lee Hsien Loong described the speed-link project as a “game changer” .

“This project will change the way we do business, look at each other and interact,” said Najib.

“We hope to meet the 2020 deadline for the project,” he told a joint press conference after the annual leaders retreat here.

The two mass “people mover” projects are part of multi-billion ringgit business deals between the two countries.

These include a wellness project at Nusajaya in Johor and a mixed development project between Iskandar Waterfront Holdings Sdn Bhd and the Singapore Government investment arm Temasek in Danga Bay worth RM8.1bil.

Najib said the high-speed rail link would be built via public-private partnership with strong government participation.

“It will be on the basis of private sector funding with the government providing structural support and participation.”

Lee said the project would make it faster to travel between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore by rail than by air, including waiting time.

He recalled that Najib mooted the idea of the link at a meeting some months ago and he felt that it was a good idea.

On the rapid transit system, Lee said the two countries had 12 months to decide on whether to build a bridge or an undersea tunnel between the two countries.

Later the two leaders unveiled the Marina One project, which is in the heart of Singapore's new central business district undertaken by M+S Pte Ltd, a company owned 60:40 by Khazanah Holdings Bhd and Temasek.

They were also updated on the integrated development DUO joint venture. The two projects have a gross development value of S$11bil (RM26.4bil).

The leaders lauded the excellent progress in relations between the two countries since the Points of Agreement was settled in 2010.

In a three page statement, they agreed to intensify existing cooperation and explore new ways to leverage on the complementarities between Singapore and Iskandar, just across the island republic.

They agreed among others to look into the feasibility of a third road link between the two countries in the long term, and establishing new ferry terminal and Customs, Immigration and Quarantine facilities at Puteri Harbour in Johor this year.

Singapore, Malaysia agree on high-speed rail link
Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 19 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE: The leaders of Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to build a high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur that will significantly cut travel time for commuters to just 90 minutes!

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak made the announcement after a retreat in Singapore on Tuesday.

Both described the upcoming project as a "game changer" that will give both countries greater stakes in each other's prosperity and success.

The Leaders' Retreat is an annual meeting for both prime ministers to take stock of bilateral ties and discuss areas of further cooperation.

Since the resolution of the Points of Agreements in 2010, relations have progressed steadily.

Mr Lee said it was Mr Najib who first mooted the idea of a high-speed rail link, some months back.

Mr Lee said: "It's a strategic project for the two countries. It will change the way we see each other. It's the way people in London and Paris are able to - think of it like twin cities where you can commute, go up there, do business, meet friends have a meal and come back, all within maybe two-thirds of a day.

"And I think it's going to be a game-changer. It will transform the way people interact, the intensity of our cooperation and the degree in which we become inter-dependent on one another and therefore have stakes in each other's success."

Mr Najib agreed. He said: "It will change the way we do business, the way we look at each other, the way we interact. And it will be seamless in every sense of the word. Within a mere 90 minutes from door to door, people can travel from KL to Singapore and vice versa.

"So, I'm excited about the project. We will certainly do our level best to meet the 2020 deadline. It may go slightly beyond that but those are details in implementation."

The distance between Singapore and the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur is about 315km.

Currently, it can take up to 8 hours by train between the two cities; by bus or car, up to 5 hours; and flight, about 45 minutes.

Mr Lee said: "90 minutes, travel time, that should be faster than even taking a plane if you add in the waiting time at both ends. I think it will become like, as Prime Minister Najib said, like between the European cities where you consider the two cities as one virtual urban community; I can live in one city, I can work on the other side, I can come back the same day.

"It's happened in Europe, it's happened in Taiwan between Taipei and Kaohsiung with their high speed train. I think it will happen in China, because they've built a high speed train network, and if you look at Southeast Asia, and you talk about connectivity between ASEAN countries then a high speed train between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur is the link that makes the most sense.

"The population is there, the economic vitality is there, the spending power is there. The rationale is good."

Mr Najib said the project will be a partnership between the private and public sectors.

He also said: "We will draw on each other's experience. Of course, Singapore has got many years of experience running the MRT. We can look at modalities in other countries...UK, France...Madrid, Barcelona, and you've got the cities in China as well, connected by high speed rail.

"Those are example of projects we can use as a basis for us to work out very doable, practical model for this rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The important thing is this is huge, this is big, this is a real game-changer."

The leaders have tasked the joint ministerial committee to look into details and modalities of the high-speed rail link.

The high-speed rail link will also complement another rail project - the Rapid Transit System Link that will link Johor Bahru in southern Malaysia to Singapore's local trains along the upcoming Thomson Line that is expected to be ready by 2019.

In the longer term, both sides will also look into the possibility of a third road link between the two countries.

Also launched on Tuesday by the two prime ministers were two wellness projects in Medini at Iskandar Malaysia and a mixed development project at Danga Bay.

The leaders also noted the progress of the joint developments by Malaysia's Khazanah Nasional and Singapore's Temasek Holdings in Singapore (by M+S Pte Ltd) and in Iskandar Malaysia (by Pulau Indah Ventures Sdn Bhd).

Both sides have also agreed on the final composition and terms of reference of the Industrial Cooperation Workgroup.

This group will be spearheaded by Singapore's Economic Development Board and Malaysia's Investment Development Authority.

It will explore mutually beneficial economic activities and facilitate the hiring of skilled workers, among other things.

Tuesday's retreat is the fourth between Mr Najib and Mr Lee.

With the Malaysian General Election looming, Mr Najib said he would like to see continuity in these long-term projects.

The next leader's retreat is scheduled for 2014, in Malaysia.

- CNA/al/ir

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Reformed U.N. formula for making planet greener to get first test

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 18 Feb 13;

A new United Nations plan to involve all nations in marshalling science to fix environmental problems ranging from toxic chemicals to climate change will be put to the test from Monday at talks in Nairobi.

The 40-year-old U.N. Environment Programme will open its annual governing council to all the world's almost 200 nations, up from a current group of 58, under reforms aimed at making the world economy greener at a time of weak economic growth.

"A strengthened UNEP will ... improve and enhance international cooperation on the environment," Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP, said of the annual February 18-22 meeting in a telephone interview with Reuters.

Environment ministers or senior officials from about 150 nations are due to attend, out of almost 200 possible worldwide. Until now, UNEP's governing council has left out many smaller states, from Guyana to Albania.

The shift is meant to sharpen world focus on problems such as toxic chemicals, over-fishing and global warming. Getting more countries in the room will not necessarily make reaching agreements easier but should give UNEP decisions more authority.

Steiner said the talks would be a first chance to see how the new approach works. UNEP oversees many scientific studies guiding U.N. work, such as monitoring climate change or the pace of extinction of animals and plants.

Under an agreement last year at an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, UNEP will get a bigger budget. "By (February 22) the plan is that we will have the final steps in implementing the Rio summit's decisions to reform UNEP," Steiner said.

The Rio deal fell short of calls by some nations, such as France, to create a completely new U.N. environment agency.

"The seeds of what we are seeing will be seen only 5 or 10 years down the line," Steiner said.

"One of the major issues is a new strategy for the organization and a programme of work for the next 3 years," Steiner said of the Nairobi talks that will lay guidelines for work on issues from oceans to slowing extinctions.


UNEP has registered some successes, such as the 1987 Montreal Protocol for limiting emissions of gases blamed for thinning the planet's protective ozone layer, or a treaty due to be signed in Japan this October to limit toxic mercury.

Climate change has proved far tougher to solve as global emissions of greenhouse gases have continued to rise. China, the United States and the European Union are top emitters.

Governments aim to work out a deal by the end of 2015 to slow global warming and make it effective from the end of 2020. World leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama failed to nail down a treaty at a summit in Copenhagen in 2009.

"On the current trajectory of negotiations it is not easy to see how by 2015 a new framework agreement will emerge," Steiner said. But some nations have been acting on their own and extreme events, such as a melt of the Arctic sea ice, droughts, floods and powerful storms, have underscored the risks.

"It is becoming more and more clear in the minds of the public that climate change is ... a clear and present danger that will require us to act," he said.

UNEP has overall responsibility for environmental problems among U.N. agencies but talks on fixing global warming are overseen by the Bonn-based U.N. Climate Change Secretariat.

(Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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