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EXCLUSIVE: Singapore’s Maritime sector from the lens of NCS

The maritime sector in Singapore, while not often in the news, is moving forward in their digitalisation efforts in support of Singapore’s Smart nation goals. NCS Singapore is one such agency that is driving this transformation strategy.

Over the past 38 years, NCS has been the principal IT solutions provider for the government. It has successfully implemented more than 3,000 large-scale, mission-critical, and multi-platform projects for Singapore’s government ministries and agencies, and commercials enterprises.

Kwong Heng, Practice Director, Maritime, NCS

OpenGov had the opportunity to interview Kwong Heng, Practice Director, Maritime at NCS to gain further insights into how Singapore’s maritime scene is sailing into the digital era.

Maritime Digitalisation Landscape

There are several trends that will impact the transformation journey of the sector.

One is that container ships are getting bigger. Today, the biggest container ship is at 400 metres length and can carry up to 22,000 twenty-foot containers. While this brings more economies of scale for carriers, it created news challenges for managment of ports and logistics.

Rolling-out of autonomous ships was another identified trend. This technology will likely be implemented first on domestic harbour craft such as ferries, harbour launches, and tugboats.

With these ongoing trends, Kwong Heng laid out the current operational challenges faced in the industry:

  • Manpower constraints: Labour-intensive port operations require people to handle mooring operations, fix and remove container twist locks, operate cranes and trucks and others
  • Limited sea space: Singapore being geographically small needs to manage its space properly
  • Maintaining a high standard of port safety

Singapore Tuas Mega Port Development project

Tying these challenges together, he shared about the Singapore Tuas Mega Port Development project which was announced by the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) in 2015 and of how it will aid in overcoming these obstacles.

The currently operating terminals at Tanjong Pagar, Brani, and Keppel will cease operations by 2027 and all operations will be consolidated at Tuas. By 2040, the current Pasir Panjang Terminals will be consolidated at the mega port too.  The Tuas container terminal is set to be the world’s largest container terminal situated in a single location and can handle up to 65 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo annually.

This “next-generation port 2030 vision” will be a clean-slate land of opportunity for experimenting and innovating on technologies and new concepts for port operations to enhance efficiency, manpower & land productivity, port safety, and environmental suitability.

Key stakeholders for innovation

Kwong Heng shared that the three key stakeholders in maritime digitalisation are the terminal operators, port authority, and carriers.

  • Port authorities/ terminal operators– Digital Smart Port/Fully Automated Terminal
  • Carriers – connected ships, autonomous ships
  • Increasing needs for a Secured digital supply chain- end to end automation and integration of the various supply-chain stakeholders

Terminal operator

Only 3% of the world’s container port terminals are fully or semi-automated. Kwong Heng said that the trend is for new ports to be fully automated and for existing ports to slowly undergo that transformation.

Most Terminal operators agree that Terminal Automation can:

  • Enhance operations and safety/efficiency
  • Improve operational control and consistency
  • Reduce operational costs and carbon emission

Singapore’s terminals are currently semi-automated but the new Tuas terminal will be fully automated. Singapore manages large volumes of containers, with about 85% of them used for transhipment, the process of off-loading a container from one vessel and loading it onto another.

Port authority

Innovations for port authorities have been implemented in other countries:

  • Port of Rotterdam– Sensors have been installed across 42 km of the waterway to collect and analyse real-time data such as currents, tidal, wind direction, and berth availability. This is done to determine optimal times for ships to dock, load and unload cargo
  • Hamburg port– It manages 140km of roads and bridges. IoT and data analytics are used to help optimise traffic and cargo flow, and maintenance of the port infrastructure


These are some of the technologies used in this area:

  • IoT:
  1. Refrigerated containers- Maersk uses IoT for monitoring the temperature of these containers carrying food and other perishable items
  2. Single dashboard using IoT- to monitor the performance of multiple systems and machinery onboard the ship
  • Big Data:
  1. Fuel consumption optimisation
  2. Route-and supply optimisation
  3. Operational efficiency
  4. Predictive maintenance

Blockchain technology while not being currently used, Kwong Heng said this technology could bring immense benefits in the following areas:

  1. Marine insurance
  2. Bunkering: using blockchain to provide an efficient, tamper-resistant and auditable chain of custody on quality and quantity recording activities for a bunker sale transaction between the bunker supplier (Seller) and shipowner (buyer)

Challenge: As these technolgies are implemented, people must be willing to provide/share information for blockchain to work. The community must come together and work to build the trust of the quantity and quality of data being received

NCS point-of-view on Smart Port- Vessel Traffic Management

Kwong Heng laid out the 4 key thrusts to drive vessel traffic management in a smart port:

  1. Data and AI-driven port operations: smart-anti Collison prediction
  • Prediction of traffic hotspots
  • Automatic anomaly detection
  • Analytics to defuse near misses and traffic hot spots
  • Space optimisation
  • E-navigation
  1. Port users’ centric services
  • 100% paperless port and digitalisation of port processes
  • Better prediction of ships ETA
  • Just in time services
  • Sharing of critical port operations data
  • Maritime connectivity platform
  1. Integrated and autonomous operation
  • Common situation awareness picture
  • Drone for ship-to-shore delivery and ship inspections Remote piloting (pilot from office has overview picture and guides ships)
  • Autonomous ships
  • Integrated operations for traffic management, incident management and port enforcement
  1. Green and sustainable port
  • Detection and monitoring of oil spillage
  • Electric harbour craft

NCS point-of-view on Smart Port- Fully automated container terminal

He also gave a breakdown of the 4 crucial components to drive fully automated container terminals in a smart port:

  1. Port Community Digital Platform
  2. Intelligent Terminal Planning and Operations Systems
  3. Fully Autonomous end-to-end operations:
    • Smart Gate
    • Automated Quay Crane
    • Automated Yard Crane
    • Automated Guided Vehicles
    • Smart Maintenance
  4. Secured and Robust Wireless Communications Network (eg. 5G)

NCS’s proven track record of smart city/port

NCS has several smart city initiatives at hand. These include improving public safety, creating smart urban infrastructure, having a next-generation ERP and a pharmacy robotic dispensary.

Its smart port projects include the following:

  • Terminal operations systems
  • Maritime single window
  • Maritime data hub
  • Smart cruise terminal
  • Vessel height measurement system
  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA) for shipping-related processes

The pursuit of their digital transformation ambitions is aimed at improving productivity and efficiency in an effort to drive growth and contribute significantly to the economy.

As is evidenced in their on-going efforts, the maritime industry deploys more cutting-edge technology and greater levels of automation.

Kwong Heng recognizes that the journey is not going to be smooth; but rather than being intimidated by this, he is motivated. He is confident that progress is made by providing opportunities to pilot ideas, technology, and systems. The key is to course-correct when things don’t work out and be able to scale quickly when trials are successful.

Kwong Heng is passionate about his role in the mission to develop Singapore as a premier global hub port and an International Maritime Centre and is confident that they are headed in the right direction.

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