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

JeromeLim-8612

JeromeLim-8615

JeromeLim-8621

JeromeLim-8625

JeromeLim-8590

JeromeLim-8593

JeromeLim-8595

JeromeLim-8585

JeromeLim-8584

JeromeLim-8578


Well Deck Ops

JeromeLim-8658

JeromeLim-8664

JeromeLim-8695


The Galley

JeromeLim-8507

JeromeLim-8519

JeromeLim-8524


The Bridge

JeromeLim-8707






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.








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