Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (Amendment) Bill [Bill No. 31/2017]
Sir, our waterways are our precious assets. They are our iconic tourist spots, venues for sports and our sources of drinking water.
Hence I believe any amendments to the MPA Act must augment the way the MPA governs and administers matters in relation to the responsible and safe use of our precious assets.
While I congratulate the Ministry on this well-drafted Bill, I hope to obtain some clarifications.
Regulation of inland craft – engines
First, I agree that the expansion of the functions and duties of the Authority by including the regulation of the operation and safety of inland craft is necessary.
After all, we wish to ensure that our waterways will be used responsibly. But since possible regulations have not been announced to the public, I wish to seek some clarifications.
Can the Minister clarify if any regulations on the use of engines for vessels in reservoirs are in the pipeline?
According to Eugene Heng, the Founder and CEO of Waterways Watch Society, “we are currently permitted to operate vessels with 4 Stroke engines, battery-operated electric vessels, or solar-powered vessels. We hope this will continue.”
Eugene explained that a blanket change to battery-operated or solar-powered vessels would increase costs significantly for smaller operators.
Further, many operators do not have access to the required charging facilities at their jetties. Any arrangement for such charging will invariably lead to higher operating costs.
He added that changing 9 vessels that are of 4 Stroke engines to battery or solar-powered ones will cost at least $300,000 – 400,000. Installation of charging facilities jetties, after obtaining the relevant permission by the authorities could cost another $50,000.
In view of the cost concerns that operators may face in possible regulations of engines, I hope that extensive consultations will be made with the Waterways Watch Society and other NGOs and companies, and that any regulations made will be done gradually.
If such changes are necessary, then I also hope the Ministry will provide some grants to the NGOs to help offset the costs.
Clarifying the requirement for AIS and HARTS system on crafts
Next, as it stands, all powered harbour craft must be installed with either a Harbour Craft Transponder System (HARTS) or Automated Identification System (AIS).
I have also received some feedback from the Waterways Watch Society in relation to this. They have requested that this requirement should be reserved for vessels that are operating in the seas only.
They explained vessels are easily identified in reservoirs since these water bodies are not large. Hence, can the Ministry clarify the rationale for this requirement for vessels in reservoirs or water bodies of similar sizes?
Environmental concerns arising from the operation of inland craft
Lastly, being precious assets of Singapore, I believe that it is of paramount importance that our waterways remain free from pollution.
Taking a leaf from the European Code for Inland Waterways, Chapter 10 therein provides for the prevention of water and disposal of waste generated on board vessels. The articles in Chapter 10 make explicit prohibitions on discharging and dumping, collection of waste, and places obligation on the boatmaster and crew members to exercise care to avoid polluting waterways and to restrict the amount of waste generated on board the vessel.
I understand that something similar to Chapter 10 of the European Code exists in Parts 2 and 3 of the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea Act.
However, it appears that there is no requirement in the MPA Act and the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea Act, for the boatmaster and crew members to exercise the said care.
In view of this, can the Ministry consider making such regulations or amendments in the future?
I am supportive of placing such obligations on such users of the waterways, who are likely sources of pollution, in order to protect our waterways for the benefit of the environment and stakeholders. Hence I hope that the Ministry will seriously consider making such regulations.
Sir, the proposed amendments to the Act are definitely welcome. I trust that the amendments have been drafted with the best intentions to ensure that our waters will be used responsibly and safely.
I hope that extensive consultations with the stakeholders will be done before any regulations take effect, and that changes will be gradual. With that, I stand in support of the Bill.