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Maritime Security Task Force monitors vessels found to have ‘malignant intent

The Maritime Security Task Force (MSTF) closely monitors and could even board vessels that are found to have ill-intent towards Singapore, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament on Monday (Oct 2).

Dr Ng was responding to Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC Vikram Nair, who had asked about Singapore’s ability to deal with terrorists who might use commercial vessels entering Singapore.

Calling it a pertinent question, Dr Ng said: “If we had, for example, pre-emptive information that a particular ship was carrying either illegal cargo or had malignant intent towards Singapore, it could amount to boarding the ship or keeping it under close surveillance.”

Dr Ng said MSTF conducts a daily threat evaluation for every vessel calling into Singapore’s ports or transiting through the Singapore Straits.

The MSTF monitors close to 1,000 ships passing through the Singapore Strait every day through sensors like costal surveillance radars, electro-optic devices and patrolling Republic of Singapore Navy vessels, he added.

“MSTF does this by deploying analytic tools to build profiles of each vessel based on attributes such as their voyage, owners, crew and cargo, as well as additional data shared by government agencies,” he explained.

The information is fed to the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre (SMCC), which “leverages technology to analyse information, detect suspicious patterns and cue relevant agencies to investigate and take action”.

Citing a 2015 incident, the Minister said SMCC detected a potential ISIS sympathiser on board a tanker calling on Singapore and subsequently barred the individual from entering the country.

“In dealing with terror threats at and from the sea, Singapore adopts a Whole-of-Government approach to ensure comprehensive coverage of varied scenarios as well as co-ordinated responses,” he added.

When it comes to exercises, Dr Ng said MSTF plays out various scenarios including those that might involve hostage situations on board cruise ships or cargo ships.

“The planners and our security agencies, together with the other agencies under the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre, do play out these scenarios, and we have over the years stepped up the level of exercises and there’s a certain level of competency,” he added.

However, Dr Ng warned that not “all attacks can be mitigated”.

“If they are suicide attacks, sometimes it’s difficult, for example, to stop them,” he said. “But this is a situation where you continue to look at the scenarios, continue to exercise and continue to anticipate.”

It is even more important to prevent disruptions to sea traffic along the Singapore Strait, Dr Ng said, as half of the world’s total annual sea-borne trade and almost three-quarters of Asia’s oil imports pass through the Republic’s waterways.

“Ensuring maritime security for our ports and surrounding waters is of high priority to Singapore,” he added.


Meanwhile, Dr Ng clarified that the ships involved in the two collisions that occurred within weeks of each other were detected and identified by sensors.

On Aug 21, the USS John McCain and Alnic MC collided off the coast of Singapore, while the Kartika Segara and JBB De Rong 19 collided on Sep 13 off Sisters’ Island.

“In both these incidents, none of the ships were designated as potential threats to security, and correctly so,” Dr Ng said.

To that end, he said the ships did not require close monitoring by MSTF, adding that the ships’ master and crew were responsible for their safe passage.

Dr Ng said: “The various parties involved with the collision will now have to investigate what went wrong and what remedial actions to take if necessary.”

Source: Chanel new Asia