Speech by Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence, at The Overseas Service Medal Presentation Ceremony
Families and Friends,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First let me extend a warm welcome home. I understand that our servicemen arrived this morning and I’m sure you are really happy to receive them. I ask them how they made sure they will arrive this morning and they said, “Don’t worry Sir, we have control of the weather”. We are very happy indeed to receive almost two hundred servicemen back who have been deployed to the Gulf of Aden for the last three months. As SAF servicemen, you have done Singapore proud through your contributions to the international counter-piracy efforts there. This was a mission that demanded focus, endurance and teamwork. All of you rose to the occasion and accomplished your mission with professionalism and vigour. Over 1400 servicemen from the SAF have now participated in the international counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
Militaries today are often called upon to respond to a range of, what we call, non-traditional security challenges. They undertake a wide spectrum of operations to safeguard global commons. When we look back, the SAF has participated in over 30 overseas missions since its humble beginnings. We do this because we recognise that what happens in one part of the world can have significant security implications on Singapore.
Take for example, why our servicemen are in the Gulf of Aden. Some of you, especially the children, are wondering why daddy or mummy is away nearly 4,000 nautical miles away from Singapore. What does the situation there have to do with Singapore here? Well, while the Gulf of Aden may be some 4,000 nautical miles away but like the Straits of Malacca here and the South China Sea, it is a major waterway. For the Gulf of Aden, it connects the trade between Asia and Europe and accounts for a significant proportion of global trade. More than 30,000 vessels pass through those waters each year and they carry on them essential commodities – crude oil and petroleum goods, some making their way to Singapore each day. If this essential waterway is disrupted, trade of course will be affected. Livelihoods would be severely affected in Singapore and our entire region if there is no freedom and safety of navigation in these vital sea routes. This is the reason that the SAF actively participates in this international effort against the scourge of piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
The multi-national counter-piracy efforts there are making a difference and making navigation safe. There has been just one reported piracy incident so far this year, a significant reduction. In 2011 there were 237 reported incidents and it has come down to 15 in 2013 and as I said this year, only one.
The SAF has played an important role to counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Since 2009, the SAF has deployed five Task Groups, comprising a total of three Landing Ships Tanks, two frigates, eight helicopters, and one Fokker 50 Maritime Patrol Aircraft. We have led these counter-piracy efforts on three occasions. What we called the Combined Task Force 151. The SAF has led it three times.
As a result of our operations there, the SAF’s reputation as a professional and credible force has been well-recognised by our coalition partners. Commander Combined Maritime Forces, Vice Admiral John W. Miller, regards the SAF’s role highly. He has called Singapore a valued contributor to this effort and the participation of RSS TENACIOUS invaluable to continuing the Combined Maritime Forces’ mission success.
Not only have our reputations been held high, our individual personnel who have been deployed to the Gulf of Aden have also improved our operational capabilities individually and collectively in responding to calls for aid and investigating suspicious skiffs and dhows. Working alongside other militaries allows us to benchmark to see where our standards are and indeed they are very high, whether it is working aside navies from the Asia-Pacific, European Union or NATO. In all, the SAF Task Group onboard RSS Tenacious spent 90 days on active duty in theatre conducting deterrence and surveillance operations. They responded to 21 calls for assistance and launched 81 helicopter sorties to provide air surveillance and ward off suspicious boats. All this was undertaken amidst a challenging and volatile regional environment because there were persistent threats by extremist groups to target merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden. Despite this, the Task Group accomplished its mission with no successful pirate attacks in their area of responsibility. I think they have done very well and they deserve a round of applause.
I know that many the servicemen who were on this mission actively volunteered to be part of this mission. In fact this is the norm when we tell people there are missions we have more people who volunteer that they can actually serve. We also have four NSFs and two NSmen onboard the frigate, some who extended their National Service to be part of this Task Group. This, indeed, is a good example for others to emulate.
Singaporeans know the importance of our mission in the GOA. Many left notes of encouragement on the “Sea of Support” website to express their appreciation. One post from Mr Elwin Tan read, “I may not know any of you, but I want to thank you all for putting in the efforts in keeping the seas safe for the greater good”. The layman he understands fully why we are there, gives his full hearted support to our efforts.
I am glad to see that your family members and loved ones have joined us on this happy occasion of your return. Let me take this opportunity to convey my personal, deepest appreciation. Your unwavering support and encouragement from family members have gone a long way to helping our servicemen and women stay focused on their mission, knowing that things back home are well taken care of by family members.
To our servicemen and women, the award that you are about to receive is a recognition from the nation of your significant contributions in undertaking this mission. I am proud of your accomplishments. Continue to fly our Singapore flag high.
Congratulations once again and thank you.