Asia shipping mishaps cause concern over sea safety; search expands
Two shipping collisions near the Singapore Strait in less than a week have caused serious concerns and brought into renewed focus the need for seamless movement of cargo traffic worth billions of dollars annually in the region, market participants said on Wednesday.
Separately, Southeast Asia is already grappling with piracy and terrorism in the Sulu Celebes Sea region, and when it showed some signs of ebbing, recent traffic accidents brought a different additional concern to the forefront — safety at sea.
“These are one-off accidents but they do point towards the need to be extra cautious,” said a tankers broker in Singapore. Any oil spill or major collision can delay vessel traffic and result in additional demurrage costs for charterers or even in a force majeure, another broker said.
In 2015, a large oil spill occurred in the Singaporean waters when the Libyan-registered Aframax oil tanker Alyarmouk collided with the Supramax dry bulk carrier Sinar Kapuas, resulting in the spillage of almost 33,000 barrels from a cargo belonging to Hong Kong-listed Strong Petrochemical Group.
Singapore is located along one of the world’s busiest waterways, with close to 1,000 ships anchored there at any given time.
A ship calls at Singapore port every two or three minutes — a total of around 130,000 ships a year — making accident-free maritime passage in the region critical.
On Monday, the US guided-missile destroyer USS John S McCain collided with the Liberian-flagged tanker Alnic MC in Singapore’s territorial waters. But there was no oil spill from the collision and the maritime traffic was not affected.
Last week, a product tanker, the Chemroad Mega, and a bulk carrier, the Sinica Graeca, collided around 3.2 nautical miles northeast of Tompok Utara near Pengerang in Johor, Malaysia, causing an oil spill the scale of which is being assessed even as a clean-up is on. The ships were detained and owners were asked to furnish a bond worth Malaysian ringgit 5 million, pending completion of the clean-up work.
It was the third time in recent months, and the fourth so far this year, that an American naval ship was involved in accident in the Asian waters.
The USS Antietam, a guided-missile cruiser, ran aground on January 31 off the coast of Japan, damaging its propellers and spilling around 1,100 gallons of oil into the waters near Tokyo Bay, a major anchorage for commercial shipping.
In May, the USS Lake Champlain, also a guided-missile cruiser, collided with a South Korean fishing boat in the Sea of Japan. In June, another guided missile destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship, the MV ACX Crystal, off the coast of Yokosuuka, Japan, a busy commercial shipping traffic region around which close to 400 ships pass daily. Seven American sailors died in the accident.
Meanwhile, search and rescue operations have been expanded to an area of 2620 square kilometers, with participation of five countries, to locate the 10 missing crew members of the USS John S McCain.
The tanker ALNIC MC is now at Singapore’s eastern anchorage for inspections and the USS John S McCain is berthed at the Changi Naval Base, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore said in a statement late Tuesday.
Singapore is coordinating the multi-agency Search and Rescue efforts with the US, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia, MPA said.
Indonesia is assisting in search along the northern coast line of Bintan Island, while Malaysia is sending four aircrafts to the expanded search area, which includes its own coast line, MPA said.
Diving operations by the US Navy to access sealed compartments located in the damaged parts of the ship are ongoing and ships passing through the area have been asked to lookout for any persons in the water, it added.
The incident occurred at a time when MPA commenced its annual Safety at Sea Week on Monday. In conjunction with the safety week, a conference was held on Tuesday that brought together over 250 international maritime professionals to share best sea-practices.
MPA also has plans to coordinate a full-deployment, multi-agency ferry-rescue exercise on Friday. Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Health Lam Pin Min is expected to attend the exercise.