By Robin Chan
THERE are no ships laying idle in Singapore waters despite a global trade collapse that has left a record 485 'unemployed' vessels around the world.
The assurance came from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) yesterday, in response to questions over whether local ports may be unsafe due to a large number of empty ships clogging the waterways.
Captain Lee Cheng Wee, MPA's Port Master, told The Straits Times in an e-mailed statement: 'While hundreds of ships are reported to be laid up across the globe, there are no vessels laid up in the Singapore port. Singapore does not encourage the laying up of vessels in our port waters.'
The number of idle ships around the world has risen spectacularly in the past few months, according to Paris-based consultancy AXS-Alphaliner, as global trade grinds to a halt amid the worst recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The shipping industry has also been hit by the credit squeeze as trade financing has all but dried up.
Ship owners have not been helped by the fresh supply of vessels coming on stream from orders made during the boom time. This has forced shipping rates to plummet to near zero.
In a bid to stay afloat, ship owners have resorted to laying up vessels to cut capacity and prop up freight rates.
The number of laid-up ships hit a then record 392 in February - almost 9 per cent of the total world fleet. By March 30, this had shot up to 485 - or 1.41 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) of capacity - but there are signs that the rate of laying-up has slowed. Analysts say idle container ships are starting to be redeployed.
Shipping giant Maersk Line, which has laid up eight vessels since December but none here, confirmed to The Straits Times that 'across the industry in general, vessels are not laid up in Singapore'.
A company spokesman said: 'The choice of location to lay up vessels depends on many factors, including the lay-up duration, costs, water temperatures and weather conditions. Another key factor is the vessel's schedule, specifically where and when it was taken out of rotation, and where it will be reinstated afterwards.'
Capt Lee said that since late last year, some ships have been staying longer than the usual 10 days at port. About 70 vessels have stayed more than 10 days each month since the beginning of the year.
But this is 'less than 2 per cent of the total number of vessels using our anchorages', he said. 'Singapore has sufficient anchorage capacity to meet the needs of the shipping industry, and...concerns over congestion and navigational safety are unwarranted.'
[From this we learn that there are over 4000 cargo/container ships in the world.]