When the region’s naval ships were being built at Tanjong Rhu

11 01 2020

Tanjong Rhu – the cape of casuarina trees and once known as “Sandy Point“, has had a long association with the boatbuilding and repair trade. Captain William Flint, Raffles’ brother-in-law as Singapore’s first Master Attendant, established a marine yard there as far back as 1822, for the “convenience of the building and repair of boats and vessels”.  That association would come to an end when the last shipyards relocated in the early 1990s, not so long after one of the larger establishments Vosper Pte. Ltd. Singapore, went into voluntary liquidation in 1986.

High and dry. A Point class U.S. Coast Guard WPB (left) used in Vietnam by the U.S. Navy, being repaired at Vosper Thornycroft. A Royal Malaysian Navy Keris class patrol boat is seen on the right (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

With links to Vosper Thornycroft (VT) – an established name in naval shipbuilding, Vosper Singapore was a major player in the domestic and regional naval market. It also had a long association with Tanjong Rhu that began with John I. Thornycroft and Company setting up its Singapore shipyard there late in 1926. Among Thornycroft’s successes were the construction of motor launches in 1937 for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, a series that included the very first Panglima, a name that would acquire great meaning with the naval forces of a sovereign Singapore some three decades later.

A 1927 ad for Thornycroft Shipyards at Tanjong Rhu.

Thornycroft morphed into Vosper Thornycroft (VT) in 1967, following a merger the previous year, of Vosper Limited with Thornycroft’s parent company in Britain. VT would also merge with neighbouring United Engineers here, another long-time shipbuilder based at Tanjong Rhu, the same year. The expanded VT would find great success, especially in the regional naval market, obtaining contracts from the Ceylonese Navy, the Bangladeshi Government, and the Royal Brunei Navy – for which it built three Waspada class Fast Attack Craft.

A view towards a bakau laden Bugis pinisi on the Geylang River from Vosper Thornycroft (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

Locally, VT also supplied and serviced the Royal Malaysian Navy, as well as the fledging Singapore navy. A contract for six ‘A’ and ‘B’ Class 110 foot Patrol Boats with Singapore’s then Maritime Command in 1968 involved the lead vessel being constructed in the parent company’s yard in Portsmouth. This arrangement set the tone for how large naval procurement would be conducted here, although VT would play little part in the subsequent naval construction for what became the Republic of Singapore Navy, in the years that would follow.

The launch of the ‘A’ Class 110′ Patrol Craft at VT for the Maritime Command in 1969. Interestingly, the main deck of these steel hulled vessels were constructed from aluminium alloy (photo source: National Archives of Singapore).

The yard was also involved in commercial ship construction and repair, and naval repair and upgrading work. The U.S. Navy, which was involved in the conflict in Vietnam, sent several small patrol boats to the yard during this time. One of these boats was brought over from Danang by a Kim Hocker late in the fall of 1969. An officer with the U.S. Coast Guard, Kim was seconded to the US Navy. An extended stay in Singapore permitted Kim to put his camera to good use and his captures included bits of Raffles Place, the Meyer Road and Katong Park area close to where he was putting up, and also ones of the shipyard that are used in this post. One thing that is glaringly clear in Kim’s photographs of the yard is the absence of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as hard hats, safety shoes and safety belts – a requirement in the shipyards of today.

Kim Hocker with the author.

No hard hats or safety shoes! (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

VT Singapore became Vosper Pte. Ltd. Singapore in 1977 following the nationalisation of its parent company. Despite contracts from Oman and Kuwait, and an investment in a Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) production facility that was partly motivated by a Marine Police Patrol Boat contract,  the next decade would see Vosper Singapore fall on hard times. This saw to its eventual demise as a yard here in 1986.  The closure of the yard came a a time when plans for the redevelopment of the Tanjong Rhu for residential use were being set in motion. The shipyard site was purchased by Lum Chang Holdings the following year for the purpose, and was in turn resold to the Straits Steamship Company (now Keppel Land). Together with DBS Land, the site, an adjoining site as well as land that was reclaimed, were redeveloped into the Pebble Bay condominium complex in the 1990s.

A view towards what would become the Golden Mile area from Vosper. The naval vessel seen here looks like one of the Keris class Royal Malaysian Navy Patrol Boat (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

At the time of Vosper’s demise, there were also several shipyards that were still in operation, including privately held ones such as Kwong Soon Engineering and another long time Tanjong Rhu shipyard, Singapore Slipway. Located at the end of the cape since the end of the 1800s, it was by that time owned by Keppel and would come to be part of (Keppel) Singmarine. The last yards moved out in the early 1990s allowing Tanjong Rhu’s redevelopment into what was touted a waterfront residential district, which incidentally, was where the first million dollar condominium units were sold.

More on Tanjong Rhu and its past can be found at “The curious ridge of sand which runs from Katong to Kallang Bay“.


More photographs taken at Vosper Thornycroft from the Kim Hocker Collection:

Painting the old fashioned way (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

 

One more … (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

 

The security guard or jaga … wearing a Vosper uniform (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

 

It was common to see pushcart stalls outside the gates of shipyards and factories in those days (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

 

A store? (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

 

Shipyard workers – again no hard hats (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).

 

Welders at work (Kim Hocker Collection, 1969).


 





A floating city calls at Changi

21 10 2019

I had an opportunity to go onboard the Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan. The huge flagship of the US Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 5 (CSG 5), with its array of aircraft, a flight deck of 1.82 hectares, a complement of some 5000 and a above water profile that rises some 20 storeys, is nothing short of impressive.

Displacing some 88,000 tonnes, the carrier has a length of 333 metres and a beam of 77 metres. With her huge complement and the various services required to meet the personnels’ needs – some 15,000 meals are served daily – the carrier  is sometimes thought of as a floating city.  More on the carrier can be found at: https://www.reagan.navy.mil/media.html.

 

On the flight deck.

The hangar bay of the carrier, in which aircraft are stowed.

The hangar bay decked out for the carrier’s visit to Singapore.

 

An elevator, seen from the hangar bay. It is capable of moving two aircraft to the flight deck in 6 seconds.

 

A view of the hangar bay.

Another view of the hangar bay.

 

A F/A-18 Hornet marked in memory of FDNY firefighters during 9/11.

Another view of the memorial marked Hornet.

 

An E-2 Hawkeye on the flight deck.

 

 


On the elevator


More views of the flight deck:



 





The tall white lady with a rather colourful past

14 09 2019

Photographs from a visit to the Chilean Navy’s tallship, B.E. Esmeralda, which made another return to our shores this week. Singapore is the 5th port of call in the training ship’s 2019/20 round the Pacific voyage that has taken her from Valparaíso to Wellington, Auckland, Sydney and Bali so far. The ship, which last made a call to Singapore in 2017, is a 113 metre, four-masted barquentine built by Astilleros de Cádiz (now part of the Navantia naval shipbuilding group). Initially built as a National training ship for the Spanish Navy, she was transferred to the Chilean Navy during her construction in 1951 before being launched in May 1953 and delivered in June 1954.

Affectionately known as “La Dama Blanca” or “The White Lady”, the ship has been linked to some of the excesses committed in the aftermath of the military coup in 1973 that was led by former Chilean strongman General Augusto Pinochet – when she was allegedly used as an interrogation centre.  The vessel, leaves for Shanghai at approximately 1700 hours today and her seven month voyage will also see her calling at Busan, Tokyo, Honolulu, Papeete before returning to Chilean waters.

More on La Esmeralda:

 



A peek below decks



Back up for the sunset ceremony



Parting glances …



 

 





The Russian Navy’s Viking ship

5 12 2018

Thanks to an invitation that Russia’s military attaché to Singapore extended to the Singapore Maritime Heritage Interest Group, I was able to have a look on board  the Russian guided missile cruiser, the Varyag. 186 metres in length and displacing 11,490 tonnes, the flagship of the Russia’s Pacific Fleet was in port as the lead ship of the fleet’s task force. She was accompanied by an Udaloy-class destroyer (large anti-submarine ship) Admiral Panteleyev and a tanker, the Boris Butoma.

The Russian Navy Slava-class Cruiser Varyag, seen during IMDEX Asia 2017.

The Varyag dates back to the close of the Soviet era. Built at Nikolayev in the Ukraine, she was originally the “Chernova Ukraina“, when christened at her launch in 1983. The third ship of the Slava-class of destroyers, the Varyag was to have been deployed in the Black Sea following her commissioning in late 1989. With the Soviet Union on the verge of a breakup, the destroyer was deployed instead to the Pacific Fleet and in 1996, renamed the Varyag – the fourth ship in service in the Russian or Soviet navy to be so named. Much is apparently attached to the name, initially reserved for another ship of the class that was not built, in Russian naval tradition. This I would learn about from the ship’s compact but rather interesting museum.

Another of the Varyag during IMDEX 2017.

The Battle of Chemulpo Bay (via RT).

A reference to the Varangians or the Vikings or the Rus, who came to rule over the area’s Slavic peoples (the Rus lent their name to Russia and Belarus), the name “Varyag” evokes an great sense of pride and perhaps nationalism among the Russians and in particular Russia’s naval personnel. This is due to the actions of the crew of the second Varyag, whose heroic actions at the start of the Russo-Japanese war in 1904, are held in the highest regard.

Rather than bow down against a Japanese naval force that was vastly superior both in terms of armament and numbers in the Bay of Chemulpo (present day Incheon), the personnel on the Russian protected cruiser bravely took them on.  The United States built ship was apparently battered during the encounter and the personnel on board chose to scuttle the ship rather than surrender.

The ship would be salvaged and eventually find her way back into Russian hands by way of the Japanese, who repaired the re-floated vessel and put her to use as a training ship before selling her back to Russia in 1916. The Varyag would however, never be deployed by the Russians again. Whilst in England for repairs, Russia found itself in the grips of Bolshevik Revolution.  Work was halted and the Varyag  would later be sold for scrap. On her way to the breakers, Varyag came to a rather unglorious end in the Irish Sea, running aground before sinking. There are several online sources at which the story of the second Varyag can be found, including this 2014 Russia Beyond article: No surrender – The stirring story of the cruiser Varyag.

A pair of Anti-Ship Missile launchers – the Varyag is equipped with 8 pairs.

A decoy launcher on the Varyag.

The current Varyag seems much more capable, and able to hold her own. As is typical in the warships of the former Eastern bloc, an array of armament leaves little space on her topsides – which the group was able to have a look at.

The AK-130 Twin Gun.

On her foredeck, a twin 130 mm gun is mounted. Anti-ship missile launchers, 4 pairs on either side of the deckhouse, are quite prominent. There are also her Close-in weapon systems (CIWS), torpedo tubes, decoy launchers and anti-submarine mortar launchers clearly on display. Less obvious are her vertical launched long range Surface-to-Air missiles and pop-up Surface-to-Air missile launchers, found on the mid and aft decks. A heli-deck is found on the aft deck, with correspondence provided to a hangar at the end of the aft house down a ramp built into the deck.

The Varyag is the only ship in the Russian naval fleet that flies a unique ensign.

Besides visiting the Varyag and her on-board museum, the group was also able to have a look at the main deck of the Alexander Panteleyev. Photographs of the destroyer can be found at the end of this post.

The Varyag’s helideck.

A ramp connects the helideck to the ship’s hangar.

Another view of the decoy launcher.

The ship’s bell.

Passageway in between the deckhouse and the Anti-Ship Missile launchers along the ship’s sides.

A view across to the Admiral Panteleyev and her 30mm CIWS.

A coil of rope placed on each side of the ship’s gangway – apparently a Russian naval tradition.


The Varyag’s Museum

The recovered ensign of the second Varyag.

A panel providing information on the Battle of Chemulpo Bay.

A model of the US built protected cruiser sunk in 1904.

The last Soviet-era naval ensign to be flown – seen with the now provocative St. George’s Stripes.


Photographs of the Admiral Panteleyev, an Udaloy-class Destroyer accompanying the Varyag

The Admiral Panteleyev, an Udaloy-class Destroyer, which accompanied the Varyag.

A Kamov KA-27 helo on the deck of the Admiral Panteleyev.

The helo control room of the Admiral Panteleyev.

Torpedo tubes on the Admiral Panteleyev.

Anti-submarine mortar launchers on the Admiral Panteleyev..

100 mm calibre guns on the foredeck.

Another view of the 100 mm gun.

Vertical launched Surface-to-Air Missiles.

Anti-Submarine Missile Launcher.


 

 

 





The launch of Independence

4 07 2015

I found myself back at a place from my past, not so much to take a look back as I often am inclined to do, but to look at what is to come – the beginnings of a new generation of naval patrol vessels, the first of which was being launched yesterday at Singapore Technologies Marine (ST Marine). Developments in the design of naval ships have in the last two decades given naval craft such as patrol vessels fanciful looks and names. In keeping with this fashion, the new class of vessels that will replace the Patrol Vessels (PV) of the generation past that I had a hand in designing at the start of my career as Naval Architect, will be known not simply as a PV, by a fancy sounding Littoral Mission Vessel or LMV- reflective perhaps also of how the role of a near shore maritime security vessel has evolved in the interim.

The uncompleted RSS Independence LMV at her launch and christening.

The uncompleted RSS Independence LMV at her launch and christening.

The RSS Independence, the first of the new class of eight LMVs, is being built as a replacement to the eleven surviving PVs. The aptly named Independence, launched in the year Singapore celebrates 50 years of nationhood by Mrs Ivy Ng – the wife of Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen, is being constructed based on a Saab Kockums AB basic design. Featuring a steel hull and a carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) superstructure to reduce topside weight, she will be fitted out with a suite of state-of-the-art sensors and weapon systems intended to provide her with a superior response and surveillance capabilities than the PVs to better meet the navy’s needs in patrolling the littoral zone. In comparison to the PVs, the LMVs will also see a greater integration of her naval and platform operations, and in her maintenance and logistic support systems.

The unfinished Integrated Command Centre with the Engineering and Navigation consoles.

The unfinished Integrated Command Centre with the Engineering and Navigation consoles.

LTC Chew Chun Chau, who heads the LMV Project team, giving a presentation of the LMV's Weapon fit out.

LTC Chew Chun Chau, who heads the LMV Project team, giving a presentation of the LMV’s Weapon fit out.

A snapshot of the LMV's Surveillance capabilities.

A snapshot of the LMV’s Surveillance capabilities.

One of the key features of the Independence class LMVs will be her Integrated Command Centre (ICC). The ICC sees, unusually for a naval vessel, the co-location of the Navigation, Command and Control, and Engineering centers. Housed on the upper level of the the superstructure, the co-location is a move-away from traditional thinking as the three centres, the Bridge, the Combat Information Centre or CIC, and the Machinery Control Room or MCR would be kept in separate compartments to reduce the vulnerabilities that come with co-location.

A full-scale mock-up of the ICC at the shipyard.

A full-scale mock-up of the ICC at the shipyard.

The Independence’s ICC will offer a 360 degree panoramic view, again something that is unusual for the crew manning the CIC and MCR on conventional naval craft. Along with the housing of the various functions in one command centre, this will provide for better operational effectiveness and make the LMVs better suited to fulfill their roles in the provision of maritime security in the littoral zone.

ME 5 Tang Chee Meng explaining the concept of the ICC.

ME 5 Tang Chee Meng explaining the concept of the ICC.

A peek inside the mock-up of the ICC.

A peek inside the mock-up of the ICC.

Much thought has been put into the design of the ICC. The conceptualisation of this started as far back as 2011. Cognitive task analysis and scenario based experiments were carried out over a two-year period before implementation could be done, first in a specially set up simulation room. The room, which I had the opportunity to have a peek at prior to the launch, allows modelling and simulation of the LMVs command and control systems to be carried out, allowing the crew to be  trained prior installation and integration of the actual systems on the LMVs.

A simulation of the ICC.

A simulation of the ICC.

Simulation of a successful hit on a hostile sampan sized craft.

Simulation of a successful hit on a hostile sampan sized craft.

A simulation of a LMV escort operation was also carried out during that visit. This provided an appreciation of the difficulty faced by the crew in the identification of threats in the congested nearshore zone as well demonstrated how well the LMVs,  are equipped to deal with such threats.

Touch screen interfaces will be employed on the operating consoles of the ICC.

Touch screen interfaces will be employed on the operating consoles of the ICC.

A key feature of the LMVs is the network-centric integrated communication and network system. This will facilitate  the communication and sharing of information on board and at the same time integrate it with the Singapore Armed Force’s larger IKC2 network, allowing real-time information sharing across the assets that are deployed. Communication with shore-side centres is also key to the logistics and engineering support concept that is being introduced to the LMVs. A remote health monitoring system will monitor the LMVs combat and platform systems’ from the shore and help in identifying pre-emptive maintenance needs.

A simulation of the view from the command cluster in the ICC.

The view from the command cluster in the ICC’s simulation room.

Although much larger than the PVs, the LMVs will carry a baseline complement of 23, expandable to a maximum of 61. The reduction in manning is being achieved through the use of advanced sense-making and decision support systems, increased levels of automation, and improvement in operational methods through design and equipment selection. An Integrated Platform Management System will be used to better manage situations such as engineering defects and to help with fire-fighting and damage control management.

The navigation console in the ICC.

The navigation console in the ICC.

One area in which manpower needs will see a significant improvement in the launch and recovery of the platform’s Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs). Used for interception and boarding operations, the LMVs RHIBs are deployed via a stern ramp. A specially designed system of rollers fitted at an inclined well at the stern and on the ramp will allow the boats to be launched and recovered with a minimum of manpower. The traditional method of launch and recovery involves davits or cranes, which would have required much more manpower.

A stern-launched RHIB.

A stern-launched RHIB.

Outwardly, the LMVs will look very different from the PVs. A feature that will certainly stand out will the LMVs enclosed mast. The design of the enclosed and stacked mast provides a means not only to locate the LMVs sensors more optimally, it will also enable access to the sensors for maintenance, without the LMVs having to go into the shipyard.

A data sheet showing how the LMV, which will feature a stacked mast, will look like completed.

A data sheet showing how the LMV, which will feature a stacked mast, will look like completed.

Another feature of the LMVs that will differentiate them from the PVs, is a helideck. Designed to land and secure a medium lift helicopter, the deck is also where two hatches can be seen, through which modular and containerised mission based systems can be loaded into a mission bay below. This allows flexibility in configuring the LMVs for different operational roles. For example, a medical mission modules can be loaded for a one-off operation when the LMVs are tasked to carry out missions involving humanitarian, disaster relief or search and rescue operations,

The mission bay below the helideck.

The mission bay below the helideck.

The LMVs, assembled from 19 hull construction blocks, one of which is the CFRP superstructure, will be delivered to the RSN in early 2016 – approximately in six months time, after which the ICIT – the Installation, Checkout, Integration and Testing phase will take place before the Independence is expected to be commissioned in 2017. The class is scheduled to be fully operational in 2020. More information on the LMVs can be found at the Littoral Mission Vessel.

Dr. Ng Eng Hen, who recalled the previous RSN ship he and his wife launched in Karlskrona - when blankets were given out to the guests. The RSS Independence was launched by Mrs Ivy Ng.

Dr. Ng Eng Hen, who recalled the previous RSN ship he and his wife launched in Karlskrona – when blankets were given out to the guests. The RSS Independence was launched by Mrs Ivy Ng.

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The naval powers collide at Changi

29 06 2015

Every two years in May, the international maritime defence exhibition, IMDEX Asia, comes to town and offers a chance not only to catch up with the going-ons in the region’s naval developments, but also a rare opportunity to take a look at some of the the naval assets of the powers in the Asia Pacific region. This year’s treat must have been the chance to get up-close to the very impressive looking and well-built Chinese stealth frigate, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s 4,000-tonne Type 054A Jiangkai II class CNS Yulin (FFG 569).

The People's Liberation Army Navy's Type 054-A Jiangkai II Class Stealth Frigate, CNS Yulin.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Type 054-A Jiangkai II Class Stealth Frigate, CNS Yulin.

The HQ-16 SAM vertical launcher cells on the fore deck.

The 32 cell HQ-16 SAM vertical launcher system on the fore deck.

There were also the ships of some of the navies whose presence in the region helps maintain a balance, chief among them the United States Navy (USN), which was the foreign navy with the largest number of ships at Changi Naval Base with two surface ships and a submarine. These were the Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89), a Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), and a Los Angeles Class submarine, the USS Pasadena (SSN 752). Some of the others at berth were a Republic of Korea Navy Incheon Class Frigate ROKS Incheon (FFX 811), a Royal Australian Navy Anzac Class Frigate HMAS Perth (FFH 157), and several ships of the regional and Indian sub-continent navies. More on IMDEX Asia 2015 can be found at the exhibition’s website. The next exhibition is schedule to take place from 16 to 18 May 2017.

The USS Fort Worth Littoral Combat Ship.

The USS Fort Worth, a Freedom class Littoral Combat Ship.

USS Mustin, an Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer.

USS Mustin, an Arleigh Burke class Destroyer.

USS Pasadena, a Los Angeles Class submarine.

USS Pasadena, a Los Angeles Class submarine.

SLNS Sayura, a Sri Lanka Navy Sukanya Class Patrol Vessel.

SLNS Sayura, a Sukanya class Offshore Patrol Vessel and the flagship of the Sri Lanka Navy.

The stern of the ROKS Incheon against the incoming storm.

The stern of the ROKS Incheon against the incoming storm.

The KD Lekir, a TLDM (Royal Malaysian Navy) Kasturi Class Corvette.

The KD Lekir, a TLDM (Royal Malaysian Navy)
Kasturi Class Corvette.

The Indian Navy's INS Satpura, a Shivalik Class Frigate.

The Indian Navy’s INS Satpura, a Shivalik Class Frigate.

The silhouettes of two of the Republic of Singapore Navy's Endurance class LSTs.

The silhouettes of two of the Republic of Singapore Navy’s Endurance class LSTs.


Previous posts on other naval vessels:






All aboard the RSS Endurance

12 02 2015

There is no better way of getting acquainted with some of what goes on on a naval ship than to have a first hand view of its operations. I got a chance to do just that on Monday, when at the invitation of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), I found myself out on the RSN’s largest vessel, the RSS Endurance for a voyage out to Raffles Reserved Anchorage for a look at her helicopter embarkation operations.

The RSS Endurance at berth at Changi Naval Base.

The RSS Endurance at berth at Changi Naval Base.

The helo-ops conducted to embark the Super Puma helicopter, was in anticipation of this weekend’s SAF50 @Vivo event. The event launches the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) year-long celebration of 50 years of its formation and will see the first of class 140 metre long Landing Ship Tank (LST) berth at the Vivo City Promenade to allow the lucky members of the public (who managed to get their hands on the highly sought after tickets) with a rare opportunity to have a look at the most versatile asset in the RSN’s fleet.

A view of the breakwater at Changi Naval Base with a glimpse of southeastern Malaysia in the background.

A view of the breakwater at Changi Naval Base with a glimpse of southeastern Malaysia in the background.

I always enjoy a trip out at sea, something I have been doing a lot of of late. Going out on the RSS Endurance was an added bonus for me, not just for the chance to see and photograph the navy in operation,  but also because it was a homecoming of sorts for me as had some involvement in her design during my days in the shipyard in which she was built – the last time I was on board was during trials that were conducted on her.

A view over the bow of the RSS Endurance towards the vastness of the sea.

A view over the bow of the RSS Endurance towards the vastness of the sea.

Besides taking those on the voyage to some of the operational areas on board, the visit also allowed us to see one of the RSS Endurance’s most important rooms, especially in the context of the Singaporean who tends to live to eat more than to eat to live – the galley. The galley, we learnt provides not just sustenance, but the cooks who the crew are often on personal terms with, work even in the nastiest of weather to help keep the morale up in serving up meals that includes many local favourites. Things did get a bit steamy during the visit to the galley, and we were quickly ushered to the cold room to cool off before settling down to a delicious lunch of nasi lemak that the galley specially prepared for our visit.

Things got a bit steamy ....

Things got a bit steamy ….

... so we had to cool off in the cold room.

… so we had to cool off in the cold room.

Along with the opportunity to witness the helo ops (helicopter operations), one more thing we got to see was of the operations to embark the vessel’s Fast Craft Utility (FCU) into the floodable dock on the vessel’s well-deck. The ability to launch fast landing craft and deploy helicopters are among the amazing array of capabilities, the RSS Endurance and her sister ships are equipped with. While the LSTs are designed primarily to support troop and equipment deployment, the capabilities also extend the ships’ capabilities to supporting a range of peacetime missions from disaster relief, search and rescue, and protection of merchant shipping.

One of the key capabilities the RSS Endurance has is being able to deploy fast landing craft through a stern opening from her well deck.

One of the key capabilities the RSS Endurance has is being able to deploy fast landing craft, Fast Craft Utility or FCU, through a stern opening from her well deck.

A Super Puma taking off at the Raffles Reserved Anchorage. Pulau Senang can be seen in the background.

A Super Puma taking off at the Raffles Reserved Anchorage. Pulau Senang can be seen in the background.

Designed and built by ST Marine, the Endurance class of LSTs proved to be particularly useful during the post 2004 Boxing Day tsunami relief efforts in Aceh. The fast landing craft launched from the vessels could be used to maximum advantage in reaching coastal locations that had been cut off in the wake of the disaster.

The city's skyline as seen from the Singapore Strait.

Enroute to Raffles Reserved Anchorage – the city’s skyline as seen from the Singapore Strait.

For those who missed the chance to win tickets to view this valuable asset in RSN’s fleet  through the online ballot, all is not lost. There would still be a chance to obtain tickets through a on-site draw. Balloting times slots for these are at 3 pm to 6 pm on Thursday and Friday; 9 am to 11 am, 12.30 pm to 2.30 pm, 4 pm to 6 pm on Saturday; and 9 am to 12 pm and 3 pm to 6 pm on Sunday. The winners of the ballot have the opportunity to have a glance at the Bridge, Flight Deck on which a Super Puma is tied down, and the steamy Galley. There is also the chance to ride the waves on one of the RSN’s Fast Craft Utility landing craft.

Smaller fast landing craft for personnel (FCEP - Fast Craft Equipment and Personnel) can be deployed over the shipside.

Smaller fast landing craft for personnel (FCEP – Fast Craft Equipment and Personnel) can be deployed over the shipside.

The cluster of islands at which Raffles first made contact with Singapore, with the Singapore he helped create in the background. St. John's Island is on the left with Lazarus Island and Kusu next to it.

Enroute to Raffles Reserved Anchorage – a view of the cluster of islands at which Raffles first made contact with Singapore, with the Singapore he helped create in the background. St. John’s Island is on the left with Lazarus Island and Kusu next to it.

The SAF50@Vivo event runs from 12 to 15 February 2015.  Besides the RSS Endurance, the capabilities of the other SAF’s services are also on display. Highlights of the event include a SAF50 launch and Total Defence Commemoration on 12 February at 5pm and a Weapons Presentation Ceremony on 15 February at 6pm, which members of the public can view from the Vivo City Level 3 Viewing Gallery. There are also a host of activities and daily performances. More information on the event and SAF50 can be found at www.saf50years.sg.

The helideck has two landing spots. A Super Puma embarked for the SAF50 @ Vivo event is seen here.

The helideck has two landing spots. A Super Puma embarked for the SAF50 @ Vivo event is seen here.

A FCU being manoeuvred for entry into the well deck.

A FCU being manoeuvred for entry into the well deck at Raffles Reserved Anchorage.


More photographs

Helo Ops

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Well Deck Ops

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The Galley

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The Bridge

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When another Norman Atlantic caught fire

2 01 2015

The recent fire aboard the Norman Atlantic, an Italian registered Ropax ferry sailing between Greece and Italy, brought to mind another ship named Norman Atlantic, which sank in the Gulf of Oman some 27 years ago. The 1980s was a decade that saw frequent attacks mounted on merchant shipping during the so-called Tanker War and it was common to see missile damaged ships being repaired at shipyards in Singapore during the time.

The Norman Atlantic on fire and listing after the attack by Iranian gunboats (source: http://www.mintpressnews.com).

That Norman Atlantic, a 85,129 ton DWT Singapore registered Oil-Bulk-Ore (OBO) carrier, was bound for Europe with a cargo of Kuwaiti naphtha when she was attacked by Iranian gunboats in the southern Persian Gulf on 6 December 1987. This came at the height of the tanker war that was carried out during the Iran-Iraq conflict. While the targets had primarily been civilian shipping, one of the more notable casualties of the war was a US Navy guided-missile frigate, the USS Stark, that had been hit by Iraqi Exocet missiles in May of the same year resulting in a loss of 37 servicemen.

Iran gunboats in the Persian Gulf during the Tanker War (source: Wikipedia).

The sinking on 10 December 1987 of the Norman Atlantic, which was towed out to the Gulf of Oman to prevent it from posing a hazard to shipping in the congested Strait of Hormuz, made it the first tanker to be sunk by the Iranian forces. Fortunately, all 33 on board including 13 Singaporeans, managed to abandon the vessel safely. It was not to be so in two other incidents over a one year period that spanned from March 1987 to March 1988 year involving Singaporean seamen – many of whom were drawn to serving on ships sailing through the dangerous “kamikaze alley” by the war-zone allowances that were paid.  Three Singaporeans were killed in an attack on the MT Sedra on 28 March 1987 and another two when the Havglimt, which was carrying a cargo of ammonia, was attacked twice on 22 March 1988.

Relevant news articles:





Back with a Vengeance – the Navy Open House

12 05 2013

Changi Naval Base opens its doors to the public this weekend for the much anticipated Navy Open House which on the evidence of a preview of it I was  fortunate enough to get to see, will be one packed with lots of fun and excitement for anyone heading to the event. The preview which provided a sneak peek into the Open House, hosted by the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), also included an opportunity to take a short voyage on the RSS Vengeance, a Missile Corvette (MCV) which can achieve speeds of above 30 knots – one of several rides on RSN’s naval assets the public can look forward to be treated to over the two day event.

The RSS Vengeance Missile Corvette (MCV) is one of the RSN's naval assets that the public will have an opportunity to take a cruise on.

The RSS Vengeance Missile Corvette (MCV) is one of the RSN’s naval assets that the public will have an opportunity to take a cruise on.

The Navy Open House on 18th and 19th May promises to be an event for all to look forward to.

The Navy Open House on 18th and 19th May promises to be an event for all to look forward to.

One highlight of the Open House must be the exhilarating Dynamic Display. The display which is on twice during the day sees divers from the elite Naval Diving Unit being dropped into the sea by hovering Chinook helicopters in order to stage a daring rescue bid which culminates with the divers storming a  ship. The display which commences with the firing of a Typhoon gun,  also has other assets on display, including a sail past of the newly commissioned Archer Class submarine, a Seahawk dropping a sonar to conduct a submarine hunt, and rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIB) and a Fast Craft Utility (FCU) used when the divers are in action.

A Chinook dropping naval divers to stage a rescue mission - part of the Dynamic Display segment.

A Chinook dropping naval divers to stage a rescue mission – part of the Dynamic Display segment.

The segment starts with a Typhoon Gun being fired.

The segment starts with a Typhoon Gun being fired.

A RHIB carrying divers.

A RHIB carrying divers.

Naval divers storming a ship.

Naval divers storming a ship.

A Seahawk seen during the Dynamic Display - flying over one of the RSN's Frigates.

A Seahawk seen during the Dynamic Display – flying over one of the RSN’s Frigates.

An Archer Class submarine with a Frigate.

An Archer Class submarine with a Frigate.

The opportunity to have a ride on the MCV will surely be to be a popular one. Besides the MCV there rides on board several other naval assets, the Mine Countermeasure Vessels (MCMV) and Patrol Vessels (PV), to consider. The rides will give participants a glance into life on board and an appreciation of how some of the navy’s shipboard operations are conducted. Visitors are also able to opt for a ride across the waters of the base on some of the RSN’s amphibious assets including the Fast Craft Utility (FCU) and the LARC V (a “Duck Tours” type craft). Due to the limited capacity on these rides, registration during the Open House will be required and selection will be carried out through a ballot.

Visitors can ballot for a place on a cruise onborad vessels such as the MCV.

Visitors can ballot for a place on a cruise onborad vessels such as the MCV.

The MCVs.

The MCVs.

The navy relies a lot more on traditional navigational aids such as paper charts.

The navy relies a lot more on traditional navigational aids such as paper charts.

The crowded wheelhouse during a harbour operation.

The crowded wheelhouse during a harbour operation.

At the berth side, there will also be a chance to go on board several of RSN’s assets including the Frigates, Landing Ship Tank (LST), MCV, PV and MCMV which will be open for public visits. There is also a possibility that some of the foreign naval vessels which are in town for the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX) will also be open to the public – including the state-of-the-art US Navy (USN) Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS Freedom.

There is an opportunity to go on board some of the ships at berth.

There is an opportunity to go on board some of the ships at berth.

Visits may also be possible to foreign naval vessels such as the USN's LCS.

Visits may also be possible to foreign naval vessels such as the USN’s LCS.

To complete the experience, there are also a couple of tents where visitors can find out more about the RSN, its assets, how it operates and understand more of what life is like on board. The Mission and Capability Tent provides insight into the 3rd Generation RSN’s capabilities through its equipment and how it integrates them. Displays include a missile exhibition, 3D models of the assets, and some very interesting equipment. Those which caught my eye are the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV – which can also be deployed in a sacrificial manner as a mine detonator when armed with an explosive head); both deployed by the MCMVs. Also of interest is a fixed wing Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) which extends the capability of the MCVs – due to the limited deck space on the MCV, the ships are equipped with a specially designed recovery net to allow the UAV to be recovered.

Staring a UAV right in the eye - the surveillance payload of the MCV's UAV.

Staring a UAV right in the eye – the surveillance payload of the MCV’s UAV.

The surveillance module of the mine-hunting ROV used by the MCMVs.

A face underwater – the surveillance module of the mine-hunting ROV used by the MCMVs.

A welcome provided into one of the tents.

A welcome provided into one of the tents.

Inside the Mission and Capability Tent.

Inside the Mission and Capability Tent.

The second tent is the Experience Tent which provides an opportunity to go on board on a rope ladder and fire a gun which shoot paintball pellets at targets. Once inside, visitors also get to see a shipboard surgical team in action in a mock-up of a state-of-the-art mobile surgical theatre which some of the larger vessels can be fitted out with. Another mock-up is that of the inside of a submarine where not only is there an opportunity to have a feel of what the inside of one is like, there is also a chance to hear first-hand of what living in the confines of one is like from one of an exclusive class of naval servicemen – a submariner.

A mock-up of a surgical theatre inside the Experience Tent.

A mock-up of a surgical theatre inside the Experience Tent.

A very real looking surgical procedure demonstrated by the surgical team.

A very real looking surgical procedure demonstrated by the surgical team.

If all that isn’t enough to occupy the visitor, there is also a “Family and Fun” Tent where game stalls and video simulators can be found. The little ones can also look forward to have their photos taken in uniform as well as be entertained by roving buskers, and get their hands on balloons and souvenirs at the Navy Open House.

Visitors will have a chance to take aim and fire.

Visitors will have a chance to take aim and fire.

The Navy Open House will be held on 18 and 19 May 2013 at Changi Naval Base. To get there, visitors will need to hop onto a shuttle bus from Singapore Expo which will run from 8 am to 4.30 pm on 18 May and from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm on 19 May. For more information do visit the Navy Open House website http://www.mindef.gov.sg/navyopenhouse/ and the Navy Open House Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/singaporenavy.





The rise of the new Ocean

31 03 2013

The vantage provided by Stellar at 1Altitude atop One Raffles Place, one of three tallest buildings in Singapore, gives a magnificent view of the new world around Marina Bay, as well as a building diagonally across Raffles Place from it, the new Ocean Financial Centre. At 245 metres high and with 43 floors, the Ocean Financial Centre, which was completed in 2011, is certainly much higher than the building it replaced, the 28 floor curved Ocean Building – which dominated the skyline of the former waterfront along Collyer Quay for some 33 years from 1974 to 2007. Although taller than its predecessor,  the building is one that does not dominate, becoming absorbed into the backdrop of the rising skyline in the area, a skyline which is no longer associated with the harbour which brought Singapore to life.

The rise of a new Ocean - the Ocean Financial Centre, the fourth Ocean Building on the site (photograph taken with LG Optimus G).

The rise of a new Ocean – the Ocean Financial Centre, the fourth Ocean Building on the site (photograph taken with LG Optimus G).

The 28 floor Ocean Building was in fact the third building of the same name to rise on the site. It was a name that was very much associated with a one time local shipping giant, the Straits Steamship Company. Incorporated in 1890, the company played a significant role in Singapore’s development as a maritime nation, and at its height, operated a fleet of 53 ships and was instrumental in linking ports in the Malayan Peninsula and British Borneo. Most who were around in the 1960s would probably remember the second Ocean Building which was a grand example of the wonderful works of architecture along Singapore’s bund, standing proudly at the end of the row of the glorious row of buildings along Collyer Quay which we have lost, from 1923 to 1970. More on this an the other Ocean Buildings can be found in a previous post.

Ocean Building in the 1920s (Source: W. A. Laxton, The Straits Steamship Fleets)..

The second Ocean Building in the 1920s (Source: W. A. Laxton, The Straits Steamship Fleets).

A little known fact about the Straits Steamship Company is that it can probably be considered as the founder of a giant in the airlines business, Singapore Airlines. The company registered Malayan Airways which it later sold off. That was to later become Malaysian-Singapore Airlines (MSA) in 1966 which split into Malaysian Airline System (MAS) and Singapore Airlines (SIA) in 1972. With the advent of containerisation, the Straits Steamship company’s conventional regional shipping business became less relevant and the company was sold to Keppel in 1983. A shift in focus to land development saw its name changed to Straits Steamship Land Ltd, before becoming Keppel Land in 1997. With the Straits Steamship Company making a complete withdrawal from the shipping business in 2004 and the demolition of the third Ocean Building which it erected, all that remains to remind us of a once proud shipping, is nothing more than another building named Ocean standing on where the three previous Oceans of the Straits Steamship Company once stood.

The new Ocean Building in July 1974 (Photo courtesy of Peter Chan).

The new Ocean Building in July 1974 (Photo courtesy of Peter Chan).





The largest dock east of the Suez in the midst of a world that is to change

25 12 2012

Tucked in the far north of the island of Singapore is a huge 86 hectare shipyard which seems far out of place. Its location is far from the large concentration of shipyards and related industries which has grown in the far west of Singapore. The shipyard, Sembawang Shipyard, today stands as a physical reminder of a legacy left by the former colonial masters of Singapore. The British operated the yard as a Naval Dockyard which was an important component of a huge naval base which had stretched some six and a half kilometres along the northern coast from Woodlands (close to where the Causeway is) to Sembawang (the eastern boundary ran along the northern end of Sembawang Road from its junction with Canberra Road to where Sembawang Park is today).

An aerial view of the Naval Dockyard in 1962 (Image: Horatio J. Kookaburra on Flickr). The former Stores Basin can be seen on the lower left of the photo and the King George VI dock can be seen close to the top right. Three floating docks are today tied up along a finger pier constructed off the 850 metre northwall. The northwall is seen running along the lower edge of the photo.

An aerial view of the Naval Dockyard in 1962 (Image: Horatio J. Kookaburra on Flickr). The former Stores Basin can be seen on the lower left of the photo and the King George VI dock can be seen close to the top right. Three floating docks are today tied up along a finger pier constructed off the 850 metre northwall. The northwall is seen running along the lower edge of the photo.

The dockyard and the base was for a long time, an important source of employment in Singapore. A report in 1961 put the local workforce of the dockyard at 10,700, with the base accounting for as much as 20% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Singapore. What this did mean was that when the accelerated pullout of the British forces was announced in 1968, there were huge concerns, not only from a security viewpoint, but also on unemployment. As part of the arrangements made in the lead-up to the pullout, the dockyard was transferred to the Singapore government for a token $1 in 1968. Sembawang Shipyard Pte. Ltd. was established on 19th of June that year and a British commercial shipyard, Swan Hunter roped in to manage the transition of the yard to a commercial one.

The Dockyard's gates seen in the 1960s (source: www.singas.co.uk).

The Dockyard’s gates seen in the 1960s (source: http://www.singas.co.uk). The Naval Dockyard had been a major source of employment in Singapore. The local workforce in 1961 numbered some 10,700.

A key component of the transition was in training the local workforce, not just on the ground but also management staff to eventually take-over the running of the yard. Besides Swan Hunter, the British Ministry of Defence also seconded some 150 Naval Officers and civilians in the first year to ensure that the transition from a naval dockyard to a commercial one, over the three years it was to take the pullout to be completed, would go smoothly. The arrival of the first commercial ship came in March 1969 and by the time the year had ended, Sembawang Shipyard had docked some 66 merchant vessels and was well on its way to becoming a leading ship repair yard. The success of the shipyard was one of Singapore’s early success stories and by 1978, the tenth anniversary of the yard, a mainly local management team was in place to run the yard. The yard also introduced a highly successful apprenticeship programme in 1972 – from which many of the skilled labour and second generation supervisory staff were to come from and was key in not just raising skills levels, but also in improving productivity of the local workforce necessary to become competitive in the ship repair market.

The view of the northern area of the shipyard from the jetty at Beaulieu House. The three floating docks can be seen on either side of a finger pier off the northwall: KFD Dock on the outside on the extreme right; President Dock on the inside (with the ship on which the funnel is seen); and Republic Dock to the left of President Dock.

The view of the northern area of the shipyard from the jetty at Beaulieu House. The three floating docks can be seen on either side of a finger pier off the northwall: KFD Dock on the outside on the extreme right; President Dock on the inside (with the ship on which the funnel is seen); and Republic Dock to the left of President Dock.

The yard as we see today, has seen a huge expansion in its capacity with the addition of many facilities since it inherited the already well equipped dockyard in 1968. In addition to the King George VI graving dock (referred to affectionately as ‘KG6’), which when it was completed in 1938 was described as the largest graving dock east of the Suez (and the largest naval graving dock in the world – more on it can be found in a previous post on the Naval Base), the yard now has a huge 400,000 DWT capacity graving dock – Premier Dock built next to KG6, as well as three large floating docks. Premier Dock was an early addition to the yard, having been completed in 1975 at a cost of $50 million and opened by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Plans for the huge dock which measures some 384 metres in length and is 64 metres wide, built to meet a demand for the repair of huge Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC) which were being constructed, were drawn up as early as in 1968, although the go-ahead was only given in 1972. The 150,000 DWT President Floating Dock which was one of the largest floating docks in Asia at the time was added in 1981.

A photograph of KG6 with the Queen Mary docked in it in August 1940 (source: Australian War Memorial  - 'Copyright expired - public domain').

A photograph of KG6 with the Queen Mary docked in it in August 1940 (source: Australian War Memorial – ‘Copyright expired – public domain’).

The sheer size of yard can probably only be fully appreciated attempting to walk from its entrance at Admiralty Road West to the far end of it located just west of the former Stores Basin of the Naval Base (now used by the US Navy as a logistics base) – an end which is visible from the old jetty at Beaulieu House. It does take a good half an hour to 45 minutes to do just that – an effort that I regularly had to make to get to Berths 8 and 9 of the yard during the six long months I spent undergoing training at the yard in 1983/1984 (so much so that many of us ended up bringing our own bicycles to reduce the effort). That six months is probably one that was for me best forgotten – the slump in demand for ship repair then meant many hours spent squatting in a designated area when there was no work assigned to the work gangs we were attached to. Tea-time was always a time to look forward to then – it provided that much needed break in monotony. As trainees, one of the tasks assigned was to head to kiosks located at strategic locations along the wharf sides to buy pre-packed packets of tea and coffee as well as snacks for the rest of the gang.

HMS Bulwark off the northwall of the Naval Base in the 1960s - the northwall is where the far end of the shipyard is today.

HMS Bulwark off the northwall of the Naval Base in the 1960s – the northwall is where the far end of the shipyard is today (source: http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_203.shtml).

The yard, besides being the location of a historically significant graving dock, is also where a conserved building in the form of the former Sembawang Fire Station can be found in. While it does look like the yard is a long time fixture in the area and so the future of this historical part of Sembawang is quite safe, we do know that the winds of change is right now sweeping across large parts of the area close by. The expansion of Yishun town and Sembawang town will bring high-rise developments that will do much to alter a unique character and charm that has been associated with the area since the days of the Naval Base. The area to the east of the yard is itself undergoing a tremendous change. A renewal programme will see the park feel a lot less like the quiet corner many like me had found an escape in, and more like any other overly manicured seaside spot in Singapore. That does I suppose does complement the private development just to its east. That development will see a shoreline where idyllic seaside kampungs could once be enjoyed and a shoreline I have continued to find an escape in, become a place in which that charm will no longer be found.

What will be one of the last escapes from the overly manicured world we now find ourselves in.

The shoreline along the former Kampong Wak Hassan is one of the last escapes from the overly manicured world we now find ourselves in we will soon lose.





The White Lady graces our shores

15 08 2012

I just love the sight of a tall ship and it is a shame that we get to see very little of them here in Singapore, and so, I have to settle for that occasional visit to one that comes alongside every once in a while. One such ship, the Chilean Navy training ship, the Buque Escuela (BE) Esmeralda, a four-masted barquentine, on a four-day visit to Singapore, was opened to the public over the weekend and I took the opportunity to pay a visit to it on Sunday. The Esmeralda, which means “Emerald” in Spanish, is affectionately known as “La Dama Blanca” or “The White Lady”, is currently on an eight-and-a-half month training voyage that will see her call at 13 ports in 10 countries – a voyage that started in her home port of Valparaíso on the 22nd of April this year and will end with her return to Valparaíso scheduled for 6th of January 2013. Singapore is her sixth port of call on the voyage which also sees her calling at ports in New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, India, Israel, Turkey, Spain, Colombia, and across the Panama Canal in Ecuador.

The BE Esmeralda seen here berthed at VivoCity is a four-masted training ship used by the Chilean Navy.

The Esmeralda, launched at the Spanish shipyard, Astilleros de Cádiz, in 1953, has had a rather interesting history. When her keel was laid in 1946 at what had been the Astillero Echevarrieta y Larrinaga de Cádiz, she was to have been built as replacement for her sister ship, the Spanish Navy training ship Juan Sebastián de Elcano and would have been named the ‘Juan de Austria’. What followed was a series of events that led to the ship being transferred to the Chilean Navy. Construction on the ship was halted in August 1947 due to massive explosions at the shipyard which not only caused damage to the ship, but also resulted in such damage to the yard itself that it brought the yard to its knees. The yard was eventually rescued by the Franco government in 1951. The government formed the Society of Cadiz Shipyards (Sociedad Astilleros de Cádiz S.A.) which the shipyard came under when the takeover was completed in 1952.

Boarding the Esmeralda.

A manually operated capstan on the poop deck.

The capstans are marked with the words Astilleros de Cádiz – the shipyard that built the BE Esmeralda.

Before the takeover was effected, Spain had entered into negotiations with Chile in 1950, on the repayment of debts it had incurred as a result of the Spanish Civil war, primarily from the import of thousands of tons of salt with a loan from the Chilean government. As Spain wasn’t in a position financially to repay the loan, an offer was made to repay this through manufactured products. This was accepted by the Chilean government and part of this included the transfer to the ship (approved in December 1951) which was valued at US$ 2.98 million. Construction then recommenced and the ship was launched on 12 May 1953 and christened the BE Esmeralda. She was finally completed some eight years after her construction was started and delivered on 15 June 1954 to the Republic of Chile, setting sail the following day. She arrived at her home port of Valparaíso on 1 September 1954 via Las Palmas, New Orleans, Panama and Tongoy.

Helm on the poop deck – the words ‘Vencer o Morir’ or ‘Conquer or Die’ the motto of the Chilean Navy is inscribed on it.

The Chilean Coat of Arms seen at the forward end of the deckhouse.

The ship is apparently the second longest tall ship with a length overall of 113 metres and a length (without her bowsprit) of 94.13 metres. Her two main masts are just a metre shy of the main mast of the STS Pallada which I visited in March 2010 at 48.5 metres in height. The steel hulled barquentine displaces a maximum of 3,673 tonnes. On its four masts and bowsprit, a total of 29 sails can be hosited, providing an total sail area of 2870 square metres and giving it a top speed with sails of 17.5 knots. More information on the very pretty ship can be found at the Chilean Navy’s page on the ship. The Esmeralda set sail on 14 August and is scheduled to arrive at her next port of call, Mumbai, on 30 August 2012. When she arrives back in Valparaíso at the end of the training voyage on 6 January 2013, she would have travelled some 30,414 nautical miles, spending a total of 208 days at sea.

The port sidelight.

A porthole on a skylight.

Brass nameplate for the door to the Midshipmen’s Navigation Room.

The bowsprit.

The fore mast.

A view of part of the fore deck with the fore mast.

The starboard anchor windlass and chain stopper.

The forward main mast and the forward end of the deckhouse.

Part of the rigging on the gunwale.

A tender on launching davits.

Close-up of a tender.

A pulley block.

A peek inside the deckhouse.

A cook in the ship’s galley.

A view of the lower deck.

Close-up of rope work.





A 120 year old vessel prepares to set sail

23 04 2012

Currently berthed at the Marina at Keppel Bay is a 120 year old historic ketch, the H/V Vega, which I first visited in early 2010 and following which I made several more visits during her subsequent stays in Singapore. The vessel, which is owned by Shane Granger and Meggi Macoun, is a beautifully restored top-sail ketch which was originally put to service as an open decked vessel that carried stone and slate along the tempestuous waters off the Norwegian coastline. I was able to drop by again yesterday to say hello to Shane and Meggi, who were in the midst of getting the H/V Vega ready for what has become an annual 6 month-long voyage of mercy which she is taken out on every April or so. The voyage is one that will take the Vega to the distant eastern distant reaches of the Indonesian archipelago with a cargo of much-needed items – medical supplies, farming tools, books, stationery and even sporting gear – a lifeline that many of the remote and often overlooked island communities especially in the Banda Sea area depend very much on.

A coil of rope. The H/V Vega is being prepared for what has become an annual mission that will take her to the Banda Sea.

The H/V Vega is a 120 year old ketch that has been very nicely restored and is now used to bring aid to remote island communities in the Indonesian Archipelago.

With most of the supplies they are carrying over from Singapore already packed in, what was left for Meggi and Shane and two volunteers to do was in packing in the last few items of aid they are carrying from Singapore, as well as getting the boat’s gear prepared for the voyage. The H/V Vega is due to set sail on 25 April 2012 for Jakarta where she will pick up some more supplies for the island communities. A peek below decks revealed the amount that is being carried. Having been designed as a high density cargo carrier, the Vega is limited not so much by the displacement but by its available volume and this was very evident below decks where the items the Vega is carrying seem to spill over into all available space that will possibly make the voyage a rather uncomfortable one for Shane, Meggi and two other crew members who are joining them. Besides the boxes of medical supplies, books and stationery, loose items such as CPUs, toys and sports gear were seen to have been stowed on sleeping berths as well as free spaces in the accommodation areas, including a mechanical sewing machine – once a common household items in Singapore that will be very useful to the island community that it is being delivered to, in the dining area.

Shortlink anchor chain being readied on deck.

Ropes being prepared deck seen through a portlight.

While the Vega has been able to obtain much of what is needed by the communities, as of yesterday, there are some small but essential items that she is short of (see also: http://sailvega.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/list-of-one-off-items-needed-by-the-communities-we-assist/):

  • 1 x 12 Vdc cool box for vaccine storage
  • Reading glasses
  • Battery for Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop
  • Battery for Dell XPS M1210 Battery type HF674
  • 200x Nail / Hand scrubbing brushes
  • 100x Plastic closeable hand soap carrier (should have a snap to keep it closed in bag)
  • Sharpening Stones
  • Thread and sewing needles
  • Guitar strings (Metal and Nylon)
  • Power cables for desktop computers
  • Cables between monitors and CPU for desktop computers

Anyone be in a position to help with any of the items may get in touch with Shane Granger.

The annual clutter in the living spaces - aid items stowed in the accommodation spaces for delivery to the island communities include books, stationery, medical supplies and a mechanical sewing machine.

Supplies stacked up on a bunk.

The view down into the forward accommodation space filled with medical supplies.

Used sports equipment and CPUs being packed.

More boxes to be brought below decks.

A cabin being partially used to stow supplies.

The forward accommodation space as seen from below decks.

Even Elmo is going along on the voyage.





Extreme action on the Bay

9 12 2011

This weekend will see some Extreme action returning to Marina Bay as Singapore plays host to the 9th Leg and grande finale of the 2011 Extreme Sailing Series™ – the second time the Extreme 40 circuit will be seen at Marina Bay, the first time being in December 2009. The race will see ten teams featuring 40 of the world´s best sailors racing from Wednesday 7 December to Sunday 11 December 2011 in what is the final and deciding round of the 2011 season. The race will commence at 2pm on each day with the 9th to the 11th being public days, and action can be caught at the Extreme Race Village which is located at the site of the Singapore Flyer, which will be opened to the public from Friday to Sunday.


The Extreme 40 Boat

The creators of the Extreme 40 took the biggest, fastest sailing boat in the Olympics — then made it twice as big and even faster. And no, brakes do not come as standard… The concept of Extreme 40 is to bring the sailing to the public and not the other way round.
The Extreme 40 catamaran is a scaled-up version of the former Olympic class Tornado, all of the dimensions are relative to the Tornado, it’s just twice as big and incredibly fast. Both light -for better speed and acceleration potential – and very stiff – to withstand the huge efforts put on the structure – the Extreme 40s are made of a honeycomb core trapped between two carbon fiber skins. The stability is provided by the shape of the structure, the Extreme 40 being a “rectangle” sitting on the water, but things change very quickly when the wind kicks in and one hull starts to fly: it’s a treat for spectators, and a real challenge for the crew who have to maintain the balance whilst making the most of the boat’s potential. The generous sail area allows Extreme 40s to sail faster than the wind, in just 15 knots of wind, an Extreme 40 is capable of traveling at 25+ knots.



Weekend Race Programme:

Friday 9th December
12:00 – 20:00 – Extreme Race Village opening times
12:00 – 14:00 – Moth Racing
14:00 – 17:00 – Extreme 40s Stadium Racing
17:30 – Public presentation to the top boat of the day

Saturday 10th December
10:00 – 12:00 – Moth Racing
12:00 – 20:00 – Extreme Race Village opening times
11:00 – 14:00 – Optimists Racing and NeilPryde Racing Series
14:00 – 17:00 – Extreme 40s Stadium Racing
17:30 – Public presentation to the top boat of the day
17:00 – 19:00 – NeilPryde Racing Series

Sunday 11th December
11:00 – 12:00 – Moth Racing
12:00 – 20:00 – Extreme Race Village opening times
12:00 – 14:00 – Optimists Racing and NeilPryde Racing Series
14:00 – 17:00 – Extreme 40s Stadium Racing
17:30 – Championship trophy presentation

**please note that times/activities might vary


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Step on board the Titanic in Singapore

2 11 2011

For those, like me, who’ve wondered what it would have been like to be on board the RMS Titanic as she set sail on her ill-fated maiden voyage across the Atlantic, there is now a chance in Singapore to step right on board – at the TITANIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBITION which is currently on at the ArtScience Museum. I did just that over the weekend, having received an invitation from the kind folks of the museum for a guided tour, one which despite just arriving back jet-lagged from a trip to Europe, I couldn’t pass up on.

Visitors to the TITANIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBITION at the ArtScience Musuem get to step on board and have a feel of what it was like on the ill-fated RMS Titanic (photographs taken with the kind permission of the ArtScience Museum).

Stepping through the entrance to the exhibition at the B2 level of the museum, visitors are each provided with a boarding pass, each with the name of an actual passenger, personal information, as well as the class in which the passenger was travelling on. It is through the entrance that the visitor is greeted by the glorious bow of the ship which provides the backdrop for a photograph opportunity with ‘Captain Smith’. It is through the next part of the exhibition that I took not just a step into the world that might have existed on board what was, a century ago, the world’s largest passenger liner, but also on board for a voyage of discovery which included a step into the drawing office, shopfloors and slipway of the Harland and Wolff Shipyard in Belfast at which the mammoth liner was conceived, designed and built.

Visitors are also given a 'boarding pass' on which with the name and personal information of a passenger and can find out at the end of the exhibition about the fate of the particular passenger.

Visitors to the exhibition also have a chance to be greeted by 'Capt. Smith' and have a photograph taken with him.

One of the wonderful touches that the exhibition provides is an insight into the people behind the building of the Titanic, as well as some of the principal characters on board the vessel during the voyage. At the Construction Gallery, we learn of the conditions that existed that motivated the design of such a huge passenger liner – designed so as to compete against rival Cunard Line’s superliners Lusitania and Mauretania. The Titanic was the second of three in its class, which included the Olympic and Britannic (the Britannic was converted into a Hospital Ship by the Royal Navy and never saw service in its intended role). We are introduced to Lord Pirrie, Chairman of Harland and Wolff and Bruce Ismay, the Chairman of White Star Line, as well as to the Head Designer and General Manager, Alexander Carlisle, who led the design team, whom we were to learn had his heart broken by the tragedy – something that I could identify with having spent most of my own career in the drawing office of a shipyard.

The Drawing Office of Harland and Wolff at the time of the design of the Titanic.

On the building berth, the difficult working environment and conditions that the shipyard workers endured are brought to light – we learn of the four-men teams responsible for driving the 3 million rivets – the glue that holds the steel plates together in days that preceded the advent of welding as a means to connect steel, who worked from the break of day to late in the evening with only half an hour’s break for lunch.

We learn of the hardship endured by the four men riveting teams who put long hours in to drive the 3 million rivets that held the Titanic together.

The Titanic after her launch.

The next section of the exhibition is where one steps on board, through doors and a passageway that the first class passenger would have passed through – all recreated to allow a feel of life onboard from the luxury and opulence that the well-heeled enjoyed to the conditions faced by the thrid class passengers made up mainly of immigrants seeking a passage to the New World, as well as that in the bolier room. The highlight of the recreated spaces would be the Verandah Café and perhaps the Promenade where one could lean over the bulwark and stare into the night sky, as well as the Grand Staircase.

A lighted panel that resembles a door panel that may have been fitted in the first class public areas of the Titanic.

A first class cabin recreated for the exhibition.

A recreated passageway through the first class area.

A replica of the Grand Staircase in the first class area which is 27 feet high.

The boiler room is also recreated.

A spanner in the works - an artifact from the wreck.

Another artifact brought up from the wreck - a wash basin.

A photograph of the Titanic's boilers lying in the workshop prior to installation.

Next, in the Iceberg Gallery, visitors can interact with an Iceberg Wall which allows visitors to experience the freezing temperatures on that passengers would have encountered on the frigid night in the North Atlantic when the Titanic sank, by putting their palms on the frozen wall.

Visitors can put their hands on an 'iceberg' to have a feel of how it felt on the night of the tragedy.

A palm print left on the 'iceberg'

The main draw of the exhibition, which has been visited by more than 25 million people over 15 years worldwide, is of course the artifacts recovered from the wreck site. A total of 275 are on display, including 14 that have not previously been exhibited, from the 5,550 objects that have so far been recovered from the wreck. What perhaps catches the attention and provokes a deep sense of tragedy are personal objects that have been recovered which are the only living memories of lives that may have been lost on the fateful night. These include the marbles of a child and a pair of spectacles.

Child's marbles.

A pair of spectacles.

The deadlight of a porthole.

A baggage tag - not wanted tags were for pieces of baggage not required by the passenger during the voyage.

At the end of the exhibition, a Memorial Wall confronts the visitor. Lists of names or survivors and those who sadly perished – passengers categorised by the class they travelled in, as well as that of the crew are displayed and it is here where one can match the names on the boarding passes given at the entrance to the names on the wall to discover the fate of their passenger. Sadly the name of the passenger that was on the pass that I was holding was on the list of those who died. There is also uniquely at this edition of the exhibition, a Singapore 1912 gallery which showcases how news of the tragedy reached Singapore and with photographs of what Singapore would have been like at the time of the sinking.

The writing on the wall - name lists on the Memorial Wall provide information on the fate of the passengers and crew. Visitors are able to establish if the passenger who's name appears on the boarding passes they are given at the entrance to the exhibition survived.

Visitors checking the list of names on the Memorial Wall.

There was also a treat that awaited the participants of the guided visit in the form of a meet-up with ‘Captain Smith’, who shared not just his experiences playing the role for RMS Titanic Inc for the exhibition, but also of the opportunity he had going on a dive in the confines of a submersible, two and a half miles underwater to wreck site. One of the things that he shared that caught my eye was the effect the pressure at that depth had on a styrofoam cup – out of ‘Captain Smith’s’ pocket came a tiny cup with the silhouette of the Titanic drawn on it which had as he put it, ‘had its air sucked out of it’ – reduced to a small fraction of its original size, that was carried on the pressure side of the submersible. Amazing – as was the overall experience of the exhibition which is well worth visiting. The exhibition will be held at the ArtScience Musuem until the 29th of April and will mark the 100th Anniversry of the tragedy in April 2012.

Comparison of a styrofoam cup carried on the pressure side of the submersible which had 'its air sucked out of it' compared to one in its original condition.


Information on the TITANIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBITION including ticket prices and opening hours can be found at http://titanic.sg/.






Onboard the Audi ultra on Marina Bay

26 09 2011

Thanks to the URA, I had an opportunity to take a short cruise around Marina Bay on the Audi ultra, a 90′ Super Maxi class ultra-lightweight racing yacht. Besides the wonderful views of new Singapore that has blended with some of the old I got around the bay, I was also able to have a quick peek around the state-of-the-art all carbon-fibre marvel of modern engineering.

A cruise around Marina Bay on the Audi ultra provided a wonderful view of the former inner harbour - now part of a downtown freshwater reservoir around which the transformation of Singapore can be best appreciated.

The boom seen against the towering mast - the Audi ultra features a 40 metre high mast.

Another view of the mast.

All hands on deck to welcome a glamourous visitor.

At the helm of the yacht was Geoff Bauchop, who gave a run through of the yacht’s features which includes a 40 metre tall mast. Fully rigged, more than a monster 1000 square metres of sail can be raised. Another feature of the yacht is the canting keel holding lead ballast that weighs almost half of the 22 tonnes that the yacht displaces. At a touch of a button the keel can be moved to the windward to counteract the huge heeling moments induced by the large sails. A demonstration of this was given during the cruise by Geoff, heeling the yacht a few degrees off vertical. Geoff later revealed that the canting keel was also used to bring the yacht under the bridges over Marina Bay the lowest of which has a clearance of only 9 metres into Marina Bay. To allow this, the yacht was heeled over to an extreme angle using the keel to allow the yacht to be towed under the bridge (see youtube video below) – pretty amazing stuff!

Mr Geoff Bauchop of the Audi Ultra team at the helm.

Heeling over ...

... off the vertical - Geoff demonstrating how canting keel can be moved to counteract heeling moments on the yacht.

Looking forward.

I also had a chance to see what was below decks – where the carbon-fibre used in the construction of the hull was quite evident. Construction is mainly of carbon-epoxy sandwich – using high modulus carbon fibre which has been infused with epoxy resin and cured at high temperature on the extremely thin skins with a nomex honeycomb core that allows a rigid yet lightweight construction. The skins I was given to understand were only 2mm thick on the outboard surfaces and 1 mm on the inboard surfaces – hardly enough to resist any impacts with floating objects. Kevlar – the stuff of bullet proof vests and military helmets are used in strategic areas just to provide the impact resistance.

The view above decks seen from the opening of the companionway.

Under the glare of the tropical afternoon sun - the boom seen through a hatch from below decks.

The carbon-fibre epoxy hull features skins of 2 mm on the exterior surface and 1 mm on the interior separated by a nomex honeycomb core.

It is below decks where any illusions that sailing is a glamourous sport almost immediately evaporates, as the heat under the tropical sun-baked carbon-fibre deck quickly becomes apparent. Racing yachts are built with minimum weight in mind and air-conditioning machinery are not always considered essential. Sleeping accommodation is provided by hammock like hot berths that line the boat sides and the crew rests on the windward side – to help in offsetting heeling moments to the leeward side. Amidships, a navigation console is arranged – here onboard computers help with navigation and communications. What is also evident below is the powerful hydraulic rams below a clear perspex window at the bottom of the hull that moves the canting keel.

The navigation console below decks.

A window to the powerful hydraulic rams that control the canting keel.

The Audi ultra has been brought in and will be based at Singapore’s One° 15 Marina to promote the development of professional and big boat sailing and will help in the hands-on training and development of sailors and will be used to participate in races under the Singapore flag and crewed by a combination of Singaporeans and experienced International yachtsmen and women and is supported by the Singapore Sailing Federation. More information on the Audi ultra and the Audi ultra Racing Team can be found at the Audi ultra Racing Team’s website.

Sailing on the bay.

Sailing is being promoted as a sport in Singapore.

Marina Bay - formerly the inner roads is now being promoted as a sailing competition venue.

A last look at the Audi ultra.





A date with a lovely French lady

23 05 2011

I took the rare opportunity to pay a visit to a French lady that was in town recently. She is a lady of much beauty and the pride of the French (Naval Fleet that is) and was the largest of the warships that was in Singapore for the biennial IMDEX Asia Maritime Defense Exhibition which was held last week. The vessel, the FNS Mistral, is indeed a beauty, designated as a Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH), she has been provided with six helicopter landing spots on an expansive flight deck which features an island (offset) superstructure, resembling an aircraft carrier. In fact, she might be seen as a mini one, having the capability to deploy up to sixteen large helicopters that can be stowed in a large hangar below the flight deck. An LPH is traditionally designed to support long range troop deployment and amphibious assault, providing a force projection capability to the forces that deploy them, with the U.S. Navy having the largest fleet not just of LPHs but of purpose designed amphibious assault ships. The Mistral is designated by the French Navy as a Bâtiment de Projection et de Commandement (BPC), or a (Force) Projection and Command Ship, and is the lead of two Mistral class BPCs, the other being the FNS Tonnerre.

The French Navy LPH or BPC, the Mistral was in Singapore for a visit during the recently concluded IMDEA Asia exhibition.

Having previously visited similar but smaller vessels such as Landing Platform Docks which have a reduced capacity and hence capability as compared to the Mistral, including the FNS Foudre, and the ITS San Giusto, the Mistral seemed a lot larger and a generous amount of space that the smaller LPDs (the Foudre is 168 metres in length and the San Giusto, 133 metres compared to the Mistral’s 199 metres) do not afford. The Mistral represents a tremendous effort in coordination and engineering, not so much from its design but by the fact that the hull was constructed in two pre-outfitted sections, the aft section at Direction des Constructions Navales’ (DCN) yard in Brest (which also constructed the island superstructure) and the forward section at the well known passenger shipbuilder Chantiers de l’Atlantique in St-Nazaire. Various sub-assemblies were also outsourced in the process to contractors in various locations including to a Polish shipyard. The keel of the Mistral was laid in July 2002 and the vessel was launched in October 2004, before being commissioned in December 2006, thus being in service for some six and a half years already.

The Mistral, seen at berth at the finger pier in Changi Naval Base during IMDEX Asia, next to the USS McCampbell, an Arleigh Burke class Destroyer. The Mistral, which displaces 21,500t at Full Load, was the largest of the warships in town for the event.

A view of the Mistral's bow in the rain.

One of the large differences in the Mistral compared to the LPDs is that there are multiple decks for the stowage of vehicles and helicopters compared to a single deck in the case of most LPDs. This was very much in evidence from the guided walk through the less sensitive parts of the magnificent vessel led by a member of the ship’s crew, which started with a walk up the multiple decks, first to the Bridge, then to the Helicopter Control and Operations Rooms, and the Flight Deck before visiting the Helicopter Hangar immediately below the Flight Deck (helicopters are raised and lowered via two elevators), the hospital, the large Vehicle Deck below the Flight Deck and the Dockwell. A ramp allows vehicles and other material to be transported between the dockwell and the vehicle deck. The dockwell is floodable by ballasting and opening of a stern ramp with a water depth of 1 to 2 metres and lined with wooden sheathing to take punishment from the Landing Craft Mechanised (LCM), up to four of which can be accommodated, allowing for troops, vehicles and equipment to be deployed to shore. The Mistral also features a side ramp / door which can be used to load and discharge vehicles and equipment to the wharf.

A walk through the FNS Mistral

The wheelhouse console on the Bridge.

The Bridge was the first stop.

A view of the Flight Deck and ship's bow from the Bridge.

The Helicopter Control Room.

Windows of the Helo Control Room.

View of the Flight Deck from the Helo Control Room.

Helicopter ops are planned in the Helicopter Operations Room directly below the Helo Control Room.

Looking forward from amidships on the large Flight Deck which has six helo landing spots.

Looking aft over the expansive flight deck.

View of the Helo Control and Ops Rooms from the Flight Deck.

The walk through also provided an appreciation of the generously sized alleyways on the Mistral.

The hangar below the flight deck. Two elevators (one seen in the background) provide communication between the Flight Deck and the lower decks which includes the Hangar and the Vehicle Deck below.

The hangar can accommodate up to 16 large helicopters.

Another view of the Hangar.

A view at Hangar level.

Republic of Singapore Navy Officer Cadets posing for a photograph in the Hangar.

The Mistral is equipped with a large Hospital over 900 square metres on Deck 5 to support both military and humanitarian operations. This is expandable by use of the Hangar to provide space for up to 100 beds.

One of two Operating Theatres inside the Hospital.

The large (upper) Vehicle Deck. Together with the lower Vehicle Deck which is contiguous with the dockwell, the vehicle decks provide for the stowage of 60 armoured vehicles or 13 main battle tanks on 2 650 square metres of space.

Another view of the (upper) Vehicle Deck.

A ramp provides communication between the upper and lower Vehicle Decks (and the Dockwell).

The side door/ramp at the lower Vehicle Deck / Dockwell.

The floodable Dockwell accommodates up to four Landing Craft or two LCACs (Hovercraft).

Information on the Mistral from the DCN Brochure






A visit to the lighthouse on Singapore’s One Tree Island

12 04 2011

An hour by boat from Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal, lies Pulau Satumu, which by virtue of being the southernmost island of Singapore, is the southernmost point in Singapore. The island, which is some 14 km south of the nearest point on the main island of Singapore is also home to a lighthouse, Raffles Lighthouse, one of four offshore lighthouses operated by the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA), the others being on Sultan Shoal, Pedra Branca and Pulau Pisang which is on Malaysian territory. Being very much one who has always taken an interest in all things nautical, I have always been drawn to lighthouses … my very first encounters with one being the one that had shone its beacon from the top of the Fullerton Building that I loved watching on the many strolls with my parents down Collyer Quay, and when the opportunity arose to catch a boat to Raffles Lighthouse, I certainly wasn’t going to give it a miss.

Pulau Satumu or "One Tree Island", the southernmost island of Singapore, is home to Raffles Lighthouse.

The visit to the lighthouse, part of a learning journey organised by the MPA in conjunction with Singapore Maritime Week was a rare opportunity. Lighthouses are protected places in Singapore and access to the islands that the lighthouses of the form that most of us have an impression of is restricted, and I certainly did not need a second asking. So, on an overcast and rather muggy day, I found myself sitting in a launch at Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal with a large group of students, as I keenly anticipated the start of a journey that would take me to the first ever operating lighthouse that I would have ever visited in Singapore, to the gentle rolling of the launch to the undulations on the surface of the sea.

Lighthouses currently operated by the MPA, as seen on a nautical chart at Raffles Lighthouse.

The ride which took a little more than an hour, provided me with an excellent opportunity to have a look at the massive changes to the waters around the south west of Singapore. What greets the eye immediately upon leaving the ferry terminal is the reclamation taking place off Pasir Panjang, part of the effort to expand the container terminals that the area now hosts. Moving off along with the launch we were in, was a double ended ramped single deck vehicle ferry with a load of construction vehicles, a sign of the frenzy of activity that is now surely taking place offshore. The Semakau landfill (perhaps more appropriately “seafill”), which has joined Pulau Semakau with Pulau Seking (a.k.a. Pulau Sakeng), is clearly visible from the start, the long building that serves as a receiving station is instantly recognisable. The first island we actually pass along the way is Pulau Bukom on which the Shell Refinery has long been a feature, and moving southeast we soon see Pulau Jong, a tiny rocky island which is topped by green vegetation, before going past Pulau Sebarok which houses petroleum products receiving and discharging facilities as is evident by the many tanks and berthing spaces on the island. It was in going around Pulau Sebarok that we catch the first sight of Raffles Lighthouse in the grey of the overcast sky … just as I had envisaged it – well, almost … there are certainly more than a single tree that one might have expected knowing the origin of the name of the island that the lighthouse was built on. Pulau Satumu, based on information found on Wikipedia, “means one tree island — sa refers to satu (one) and tumu is the Malay name for the large mangrove tree, Bruguiera confugata”.

On the launch to Pulau Satumu.

Pulau Jong.

The receiving station at Pulau Semakau, looking beyond Pulau Jong.

Pulau Sebarok.

Enroute to Raffles Lighthouse.

The stern and exposed propeller of an unladen tanker - probably undergoing sea trials ....

Raffles Lighthouse on Pulau Satumu as seen on the approach to the jetty.

Raffles Lighthouse as seen on land.

Once on land, whilst waiting to be taken up to the lighthouse, MPA was kind enough to provide the participants of the tour with lunch, and it was over lunch that I had a chat with a member of MPA’s staff. One of the interesting things he did mention was that there were holiday facilities for staff at Sultan Shoal, as well as there being rooms within the lighthouse that were reserved just to allow Ministers to take a holiday on the island. One thing we could do before going up was to have a walk around what certainly seemed like one of the few idyllic places left in Singapore, that is until the silence was punctured by the roar of jets flying above – the island being in close proximity to the live firing range used by the Airforce at the cluster of islands that lay to the west of Pulau Satumu: Pulau Senang, Pulau Pawai, and Pulau Sudong. Still, the island does exudes a charm that has been lost from the coastal areas of Singapore with a little beach and coconut grove leading to the southernmost point of Singapore.

A bench at Raffles Lighthouse.

An idyllic scene from Pulau Satumu.

The beach leading to the southernmost point of Singapore.

Pulau Senang.

It was soon time to ascend the flight of steps up to the top of the lighthouse – 107 steps we were told, 86 built into the lighthouse and a further 17 on the iron stairway up to the top – hard work even for the fit. Standing some 72 feet high, the lighthouse, the second oldest operated by Singapore (the oldest being Horsburg Lighthouse built in 1851), was built in 1855, on what was then referred to as Coney Islet, and looks none the worse for wear in spite of its age. A little bit of its history can be found in the infopedia stub on the lighthouse. At the top we were greeted by one of the two lighthouse keepers on duty Mr. Mani. The lighthouse keepers work on a rotating 12 hours shift for 10 days, returning to the mainland for 10 off days, and are involved in the upkeep of equipment and in the event that the beacon fails – would require to operate the emergency beacon run off batteries. It is quite a quiet and lonely life for ten days … something that is probably hard to imagine in the fast pace world that we live in today. Lighthouses, which have always been important aids to navigation, has with the advent of GPS and electronic navigation means, been rendered somewhat obsolete. However, these are still around and serve an improtant function as a backup in event that electronic means onboard ship fail.

The stairway to the top ...

A window at the bottom of the lighthouse.

A pressurised vapour kerosene mantle burner system that was employed at the turn of the 20th Century at a landing just before the top.

Up the last flight of stairs.

The beacon at the top of the lighthouse.

A radar reflector.

Mr Mani, one of the two lighthouse keepers on duty showing us around at the top.

All too soon, it was time to leave, the launch taking a different route that took us to Marina South, with a stop off Marina South to watch a demo by MPA’s fire-fighting vessel Api-Api, throwing a spray of sea water with its two monitors. Soon back on dry land, we were to be greeted by a different spray altogether – one of a shower that was threatening to come down on us the whole day … fortunately we had made our trip to Raffles Lighthouse and back, with pleasant memories of a rare foray to an otherwise off-limits southernmost part of Singapore.





Sembawang beyond the slumber

29 03 2011

Highlights of a heritage tour of Sembawang, “Sembawang Beyond the Slumber”, with a focus on the Sembawang that I was familiar with in the 1970s. This was conducted through the Sembawang Public Library on 27 March 2011. The two and a half hour tour included a visit to the last kampung mosque in Singapore, as well as to several other points of interest in Sembawang:


The Sembawang of the 1970s was a place that I spent many a happy moment at. Back then, it was a place that, as with many of the coastal areas of Singapore, had the air of a sleepy part of Singapore where one could escape from the hustle and bustle of the urban world that I had in brought up in. The Mata Jetty at the end of Sembawang Road had then been the focal point of many of the seemingly long journeys to the northern most area of Singapore, dominated then (as it is now) by the huge shipyard around which life seemed in those northern part, to revolve around.

The destination that first brought me in contact with the post Naval Base Sembawang of the 1970s, the Mata Jetty.

The shipyard was to many who lived in the area, a source of sustenance, having provided a living to many who settled in the area since it started life as the repair dockyard of the largest Naval Base east of the Suez (said to have enough berthing space to take in the entire Royal Navy fleet at that time) over the 1920s culminating in the opening of the dockyard’s graving dock in 1938. Opened by the then Governor of Singapore, Sir Shenton Thomas on 14 February 1938, the King George VI dock (fondly referred to as KG6), was then the largest ever naval graving dock, one which is still very much in use today. The establishment of the dockyard had been a godsend, coming at the time when a slump in rubber prices meant that many who worked in the area which had depended very much on the rubber plantations introduced by Lim Nee Soon would have had an uncertain future. The dockyard attracted many from far and wide and was responsible for the establishment of the largest community of Malayalees in Singapore in the north. The announcement of the pullout of the British forces in 1968 had cast a shadow of doubt on the future for many who worked there as well as in many of the military bases around the island, coming at a time when a newly independent Singapore was struggling to find its feet, with the bases combined contributing to 20% of Singapore’s GNP. The establishment of a commercial shipyard on the site of the dockyard (the dockyard was transferred to the Singapore government for a token fee of $1) on 19 June 1968, had however, secured the future for many.

The shipyard which was established on the site of the former naval dockyard brought much life to the areas around Sembawang in the 1970s.

The Dockyard’s gates seen in the 1960s (source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

By the time I started frequenting the jetty, the British had disappeared, and the ANZUK forces installed in place. By the time 1974 arrived, it was only the New Zealand Force SEA that was left with the withdrawal of the Australian Forces, and their presence didn’t go unnoticed in the area – with “The Strip” – a row of shop houses at Sembawang Village which contained several watering holes including the popular Nelson Bar being a popular hangout. Sembawang Village , established outside the Naval Base’s Sembawang Gate on Admiralty Road had several “makan stalls” including a row of Indian stalls that was popular for Mee Goreng as well as having hosted a bicycle shop that perhaps supplied the families of the many British, Australian and New Zealand military personnel that passed through the area, Cheap John’s which is still in the area – further down Sembawang Road close to Sembawang Shopping Centre.

Sembawang Village grew on the outside of the Sembawang Gate of the former Naval Base, catering to many who lived on the base (Courtesy of Mr Derek Tait).

“The Strip” around Sembawang Village, provided watering holes for the many foreign servicemen in the area, which included the popular Nelson Bar.

“The Strip” seen in the 1970s (Source: ANZ Military Brats of Singapore).

Sembawang Village was also where Cheap John’s – a popular bicycle shop started some 40 years ago, was located. The shop is still around, currently located further south along Sembawang Road close to Sembawang Shopping Centre (Source: ANZ Military Brats of Singapore).

Cheap John’s at its current location is still very much a source of bicycles for Sembawang residents.

Despite the presence of the foreign military personnel, it was probably the workers of the shipyard that were responsible for perhaps rousing Sembawang from its slumber in the 1970s, bringing much colour and life not just to the villages that provided housing to many of them, but also to the streets around. One of the sights that greeted the early morning scene along the narrow Canberra Road that wove its way past the old Canberra Gate (another of the former gates of the Naval Base), of which one concrete pillar remained close to a bus stop that always looked busy with the comings and goings of the many schoolchildren who attended the few schools along the road, and the extended Chong Pang Village which grew to the west of Canberra Road all the way to the marshy land on the banks of the Sungei Sembawang, was that of the convoy of bicycles, their riders in the colourful overalls marked with the seahorses that Sembawang Shipyard had adopted as its logo.

Canberra Gate along Canberra Road in 1968 – near the junction with Sembawang Road. (Courtesy of Mr Derek Tait)

A scene reminiscent of the Sembawang of the 1970s and 1980s – the stream of bicycles along a part of Canberra Road that has remained relatively unchanged.

Along Canberra Road across from the area where Sembawang Mart is today, the sight of a Hindu temple set in a clearing would greet the traveller. That was what was the original Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple built in the 1960s around an altar to Lord Murugan set up by a dockyard worker. It was at this temple where a annual festival which provided the area with much colour, Panguni Uthiram, involving a procession of a chariot and a kavadi procession, was first celebrated in the area in 1967, a tradition which continues till today, with the temple having moved to a new location in Yishun Industrial Park A in the 1990s.

The old Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple off Canberra Road (source: http://www.picas.nhb.gov.sg).

The area still plays host to the annual Panguni Uthiram festival, which now takes a different route. The festival was first celebrated at the old temple in 1967.

There were several other houses of worship which rose up prominently along some of the main roads of the area as well: the distinctive St. Andrew’s Church, built in 1963 to serve British Military personnel in the area along Admiralty Road close to what had been Sembawang Gate, which is still around; Masjid Naval Base which was close to the junction of Delhi Road and Canberra Road (since demolished); and the Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea (now in Yishun) at the corner where Canberra Road branched off from Sembawang Road. One that was in an obscure location – nestled in the wooded coastal kampung area to the east of what is today Sembawang Park, in the Malay Settlement, Kampong Tengah, established by the British to house Malay dockyard workers, the Masjid Petempatan Melayu, built from the 1960s right up to the 1970s when the bulk of it was completed, is also still around in a setting very much unchanged (except that the kampung around it has since deserted it), having been granted an extended lease of life on a temporary basis. What the future holds for the mosque, dubbed the “Last Kampung Mosque in Singapore”, no one really knows, as Mdm. Zaleha of the mosque’s management committee laments … Today, the mosque comes alive during the school holidays, with camps run by the mosque for Muslim schoolchildren being a popular activity. One of the participants of the walk thought that it would be a nice idea to set up a holiday campsite in the area for schoolchildren of other religions as well.

Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang – the last kampung mosque in a kampung setting.

Mdm. Zaleha of the Mosque’s Management Committee speaking to two of the participants.

Around the St. Andrew’s Church is the area dominated by the stately residences of the military personnel, many of which were built in the 1920s and 1930s as the Naval Base came up, both to the north of Admiralty Road all the way to the coast, and to the south towards Canberra Road. Many of the houses, referred to as “Black and White” houses for the way in which they are painted, are still there today, housing military personnel from the US Navy’s Logistics Base which now occupies part of what was the Stores Basin of the Naval Base just west of Sembawang Park. The former Stores Basin is also occupied in part by the Sembawang Wharves, run by the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), established in the 1970s when it was vacated by the British. Sembawang Wharves had since been associated with timber, rubber and container imports, as well as being at one time one of the entry point for cars imported to Singapore.

St. Andrew’s Church, built in 1963 for the British Military personnel and their families.

Sembawang has a generous distribution of “Black and White” houses built in the 1920s and 1930s to house military personnel and their families.

The Stores Basin seen in 1962 (source: http://www.singas.co.uk). Part of it is used as a US Navy Logistics Base and the rest is part of PSA’s northern gateway, Sembawang Wharves.

In the cluster of Black and White houses south of the park, along Gibraltar Crescent, there is an interesting find – an entrance to a bunker engulfed by a Banyan Tree that has grown over it – a scene similar to that which greets a visitor at the ruins of the Ta Prohm temple complex in Siem Reap. Bunkers were commonly found nestled amongst the houses – most have been covered over now, including one at Gibraltar Crescent of which the only evidence left is a grass mound, as is one that used to greet the eye behind Beaulieu House.

The entrance of a WWII bunker engulfed by a Banyan tree along Gibraltar Crescent.

Another view of the bunker’s entrance.

Speaking of Beaulieu House, it is one of a few buildings in the area with conservation status, having been granted that in 2005. Built as a seaside home of a wealthy plantation owner in the early 1900s, it was acquired by the British military as the Naval Base was being built, serving as a home for the engineers and later for senior naval officers and it is mentioned that from 1940 to 1942, an Admiral Geoffrey Layton, the Commander-in-Chief for Britain’s China station stayed at the house and the house was occupied by Senior Fleet Officers after the war. The URA’s write-up on the house mentions that the name was derived from a certain Admiral Beaulieu, a Chief of Staff of the Royal Navy, but makes no mention of whether he stayed there.

Beaulieu House started life as a seaside home of a wealthy plantation owner, before being taken over by the British as the Naval Base was being constructed in the 1920s. Beaulieu House was included URA’s conservation list in 2005.

Beaulieu House, overlooks what was referred to in the 1970s as the Mata Jetty, being located at the end of Mata Road, which took one past two Muslim graves at a bend under a tree close to the fence line of the former Stores Basin. The jetty brings with it many memories of the smell of rotting fish used as bait in square bamboo framed crab traps weighed down by lead weights wrapped at each of its four ends of the frame, tied to the jetty with nylon or raffia twine. What comes back as well to me are the burnt planks and the railing-less sides and end off which a car was driven off at high speed in 1975. The waters around the jetty were great for harvesting shrimps with butterfly nets while wading in the eel and puffer fish infested waters. The shrimps eyes stood out when a light was shone in the water and that enabled one with a quick hand to scoop them out with the net. These often ended up over an open fire which we often built on the beach – the smell of fresh seafood over the fire and the crackling sounds that accompanied them as they cooked are still fresh in my memory.

Beaulieu House overlooks the Mata Jetty which was built in the 1940s and is today a popular jetty for fishing and crabbing.

Other buildings in the area which have some form of conservation status include Old Admiralty House which has been gazetted as a National Monument in 2002, and the former Sembawang Fire Station which was given conservation status in 2007, both of which we did not visit due to physical limitations. Old Admiralty House on Old Nelson Road (just across Canberra Road from Sembawang MRT Station), a two-storey brick bungalow housed the Commodore, Malaya and Officer in Charge of His Majesty’s Naval Establishments in Singapore.Constructed in 1939, iIt was later used as was the official residence of the Commander-in-Chief, Far East Station from 1958 up until 1971, when it was named Admiralty House. The URA also provides some information on the former Sembawang Fire Station (which is now within the grounds of Sembawang Shipyard): “built in the 1930s, this two-storey concrete building is designed in a simplified Art Deco-Modern style and has an elegantly proportioned fire-hose tower. The building is a local landmark for both the Sembawang area and the Shipyard”.

Admiralty House, built to house the Commodore Superintendent of the Dockyard and later used to house the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy’s Far East Station was gazetted a National Monument in 2002.

Another building with conservation status is the former Sembawang Fire Station built in the 1930s with its distinctive fire hose tower. The building is within the premises of Sembawang Shipyard.

The last stop was perhaps the highlight for many, a visit to the site of the hot springs that has long been associated with the area. The hot springs, dubbed “Sembawang Hot Springs” was for much of my younger days, associated with the Seletaris bottling plant that came up in 1967 under a subsidiary of soft drink giant Fraser and Neave (F&N), Semangat Ayer Limited. The existence of the spring, based on a heritage guide published by the HDB and the National Heritage Board, had been known as far back as 1908 (which a book written by Song Ong Siang, “One Hundred Years of the Chinese in Singapore” puts as 1909), when a Municipal ranger called W. A. B. Goodall discovered it. The land owner, a certain Mr Seah Eng Keong proceeded to start bottling the water under the brand “Zombun” soon after, after he had established that it was safe to drink, establishing the Singapore Natural Mineral Hot Springs Company. F&N bought the company over in 1921 and bottled the water right up to the war under several brands which included “Zom”, “Salitaris”, “Singa Water” and “Vichy Water” until the Japanese Occupation, during which the Japanese built thermal baths in the area. This was destroyed during an allied bombing raid on Singapore in November 1942 which interrupted the flow of the spring water to the surface and on advise of a geologist after the war, F&N left the spring until flow was naturally restored in the 1960s. When Semangat Ayer’s bottling plant was established in 1967, there had actually been plans to build a spa in the area – but that never took off, and bottling continued until the 1980s, when the land on which the spring was on was acquired by the Government to build an airbase. That would have sounded the death knell for the hot spring and if not for an outcry from the local community, we might have seen the last of the only hot springs on mainland Singapore. A corridor was built in 2002 within the perimeter of the airbase along Gambas Avenue leading to a concrete base with standpipes which channel the spring water to taps, allowing the public use of the hot spring which is thought to have curative properties for several ailments. As several of the participants were to find out, the water which reported flows out at 65 degrees Celcius, does, based on its acrid smell, have some Sulphur content which is said to be useful for the treatment of skin problems.

Sembawang Hot Springs was the source of Seletaris – a brand of mineral water bottled by F&N’s subsidiary, Semangat Ayer Limited up to the 1980s (source: http://www.picas.nhb.gov.sg).

The visit to the hot springs brought back memories of another part of Sembawang that I was fond of, one that was accessible through a road Jalan Ulu Sembawang that lay at the back of what is now the Seletaris Condominium complex, developed by F&N on the site of part of what had been the Seletaris Bottling plant. A little stub of the road is still left, but no more than that. The road had once provided access to a vast area of farmland and fishing ponds – rising up onto a crest of a hilly area that overlooked what had seemed like rolling plains of vegetable farms. My father had in the 1970s and 1980s been fond of driving along the road just for that view … one that I remember as being one of the most picturesque in Singapore. The road lead to the Lorong Gambas and Mandai area which many who did National Service in the 1970s and 1980s would remember for the training areas they contained. Like much of what was around Sembawang, that is now lost, as is the large Chong Pang village that dominated much of the are south of the Naval Base which was demolished in 1989 after residents moved out in 1986 or so. Much of the area now occupied by the new Sembawang HDB estate. The plot of land where the heart of Chong Pang was, the roundabout near which the Sultan Theatre stood and where some of the best food in Singapore could be found, still lies empty, with plans to build a sports complex over the area. While that has gone, there are still many reminders that remain – particularly the areas on which the Black and White houses are located, the jetty and of course the old kampung mosque. There are also some reminders of the traditions that existed, the stream (albeit a smaller one) of bicycles heading down Canberra Road being one … and there is the most colourful one of all – the procession of kavadis that still make its way down once a year … on a different route, but one that reminds us of what Sembawang is all about, beyond that apparent slumber.

The Ulu Sembawang area was very scenic with its rolling slopes of vegetable farms (source: http://www.picas.nhb.gov.sg)..

The area was also home to several fishing ponds (source: http://www.picas.nhb.gov.sg).





Life in the “fast-lane”: adventures on a vehicle deck of a RORO Ship

10 12 2010

One of the wonderful things that shipping has given us is the Roll-On Roll-Off or RORO ship. The RORO ship is probably an adaption of the landing ships of the Second World War, built with a bow ramp and to beach thus allowing military vehicles and logistics on wheels to be carried over large distances and quickly discharged ashore. In its simplest form the RORO ship takes the form of a double ended ferry with ramps at both ends and a deck to carry vehicles on – there were many of these operating in Malaysia – many of the larger rivers in the more remote places had to be crossed in this manner as bridges had not been built. The Penang ferry is another example of a simple RORO vessel and it is this form that perhaps the first commercial RORO Ships took shape in 1953 (the same year the first commercial jet-liner, the De Havilland Comet, was introduced), allowing a “drive-on” service to be introduced from Dover to Calais. This eliminated the need to load vehicles by lifting gear which was a time consuming and delicate affair, thus allowing a ten-fold increase in the throughput of cars on the crossing. The idea was extended first to the carriage of freight in trucks and trailers – allowing door-to-door delivery of goods, particularly refrigerated goods without having the need to unload and reload them into road freight vehicles. In the 1970s, as demand for passenger cars increased tremendously – particularly from Japan, dedicated Pure-Car Carriers (PCC) were introduced to transport brand new cars across the globe.

The RoRo Decks of a RoRo Vessel can be one of the more dangerous places to hang out in.

A feature of the modern RORO ship is the huge garage contained within the steel structure of the ship, often with several decks accessible through ramps and sometimes lifts. The garages are also equipped with huge ventilation fans, meant to extract exhaust and fuel fumes to keep the decks safe. “Safe” I guess in this case a relative term, as the vehicle decks of a RORO ship would probably count as one of the more dangerous places to be hanging out in – not that this is usually permitted. Standing in the middle of one gives the impression of being in a huge car-park, which a RORO deck effectively is, only that it is built of steel instead of concrete, and of course that vehicles are packed very tightly with barely any space left in between, as the “car-park” fills-up. It is a place where life is literally lived on the fast lane, with trailers, and sometimes trucks and cars zipping up and down and in a loading or discharging frenzy that is very much motivated by by the rush to load or discharge vehicles in the shortest possible time.

A car being driven off a RORO ship.

The vehicle deck of a RORO ship resembles that of a huge car-park, except that vehicles are packed with hardly any space between them.

Trailers parked on a vehicle deck of a RORO ship.

A trailer being driven up the ramp of a RORO ship.

The prime mover coming down the ramp after unloading the trailer on the upper deck - just 3 minutes later.

On the larger RORO ships, ramps are a common feature – most modern ROROs with multiple vehicle decks are fitted with hoistable ramps which can be hoisted up to the deck, allowing the space on the ramp – as well as below it to be utilised – maximising the use of deck space. This is opposed to fixed ramps, which are cheaper to build but result in valuable deck space being sacrificed. On some other RORO ships, movable decks can be lowered in place, allowing intermediate decks to be quickly created allowing two or more decks of vehicles requiring a lower headroom (such as passenger cars) to be utilised in a space that can also be used to carry on deck of cargo requiring a larger headroom.

A hoistable ramp being lowered with vehicles loaded on it.

A fixed ramp to a lower vehicle deck.

Closing the ramp cover for the fixed ramp to maintain watertight integrity of the lower deck.

A movable deck onboard a ship made to carry larger cargo, the Ville de Bordeaux which is designed to transport the fuselage and wings of the Airbus 380 manufactured in various plants over western Europe to France for assembly, allowing the ship to also be used for other RORO cargo.

Non standard RORO cargo can also be transported.

Tying down or securing of the cargo through chains, straps and turnbuckles to elephant foot fittings on deck is important.

Tie downs ...

Getting up close an personal ...

Close-up of a hoistable ramp.

Safety from a ship stability viewpoint has been of prime concern on RORO ships with its large decks which if flooded with water not only reduces buoyancy but also results in a large free-surface, since the well documented and published capsizing of the MS Estonia. Besides maintaining watertight integrity of the decks through which vehicles are brought on the ship generally through a stern or bow ramp, calculations are now required to demonstrate that these ships are safe even with the decks flooded with water.

The stern of a RORO ship is often where vehicles are loaded and discharged from over a ship fitted ramp.

Loaded and almost ready to go ...