Sunday, August 20, 2017

Singapore’s economic wealth: At the expense of the serenity of the Straits of Melacca.

The west coast of Malaysia and North East coasts of Sumatra may never regain its serenity. Once with rich ecosystem, clean beaches with powder soft sands and crystal clear waters have all eroded, just under 70 years. As a result of hundreds of vessels passing through the straights of Melacca daily. Apart from stirring up sediments had cause devastation to the ocean lives and the tranquility of its once beautiful beaches. It is time to take the polluters to task, review the mess they left behind to improve Health & Environmental Impact from their Commercial Shipping economy.

Singapore was listed by Nature.Com as one of the “The Dirty Ten” ports, along with Hong Kong to be the main cause of ocean pollution. Ever-bigger container ships carry 90% of global consumer goods such as clothes and food (non-bulk cargo). The seaborne container trade has grown from 100 million tonnes in 1980 to about 1.6 billion tonnes in 2014. Standardized 20-foot (6-metre) containers are moved using automated systems that connect seaports, airports and train stations. Bigger ships carry more containers, ideally consuming less oil and releasing fewer pollutants for each unit of goods carried.

Singapore’s primary wealth is trade-oriented market economy that heavily rely on goods shipping and transit between the West, Europe and Asia. Singapore's economy has been ranked as the most open in the world, most pro-business, with low tax rates (14.2% of Gross Domestic Product, GDP) and has the third highest per-capita GDP in the world in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP).

Nonetheless, the human and environmental costs of shipping are vast. Low-grade marine fuel oil contains 3,500 times more sulphur than road diesel. Large ships pollute the air in hub ports, accounting for one-third to half of airborne pollutants in Hong Kong, for example. Particulates emitted from ships cause 60,000 cardiopulmonary and lung-cancer deaths each year worldwide. Expanding harbours to take vast ships destroys coastal ecosystems. And scrapping fleets of obsolete smaller ships pollutes seas and soils, and damages workers' health, especially in the developing world. All of which with little regard to the environmental impact to the straits shared with its neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia.

With Malaysia opening its Pelababuhan Tanjung Pelepas (PTP) in Johor and possible a channel in Thailand, the industry is at a crossroads. The expected profits from larger ships are being undermined by excess capacity, slowing trade, plunging transport prices and the dire environmental impact. In 2015, container freight rates for the world's busiest shipping route — between Asia and northern Europe — dropped by nearly 60% in three weeks. A dozen shipping companies went bankrupt, including Denmark's Copenship and China's Nantsing. Even the giant container-conveying Danish conglomerate Maersk announced that it would lay off 4,000 employees by 2017 and delayed or cancelled orders to build mega-ships.

Kerri Smith reported on the need for the shipping industry to green up. A programme to be set forth to return the Straits of Melaka to its serenity my take 100 years, but must be done nevertheless. The onus of such initiatives falls on the country and its industry that thrived on and from the oceans they polluted.

The future must be green shipping: efficient marine transport with minimal health and ecological damage. Cleaner practises — especially on ship scrapping, emission control and port management — are needed. Achieving this will require heroic efforts by the industry and its engineers in collaboration with regulators, port authorities and communities. Environmental impacts should be considered in determining optimal routes and modes for delivery of goods.

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