Singapore, where average daily temperatures hover around 30 degrees Celsius, does seem to be on a quest to fill out every calendar day with some kind of shipping event.
The tropical island-nation might lie 137 km just north of the equator, nearly 11,000 km from the North Pole, but nevertheless that did not stop it hosting a high level debate on Arctic shipping today. The Arctic Circle Singapore Forum featured the president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson as well as Singapore’s deputy prime, Teo Chee Hean.
Grimsson, on a three-day state visit to Singapore, stressed that the Arctic’s development needed to be cooperative, not competitive.
“We need for this part of the planet a coordinated global effort of where the necessary infrastructure is going to be built and executed. That must be done not in a race of one economic player against another, but in a joint cooperative effort and in a comprehensive way,” he said. “We can’t in fact have harbours everywhere in the Arctic. We cannot have crucial airports everywhere in the Arctic.”
For his speech, Singapore deputy PM Teo focused on how the opening of the Arctic could change shipping routes, by extension possibly changing the fortunes of Singapore as a key maritime hub.
“The Northern Sea Route, traversing the waters north of Russia and Norway and other countries of the Arctic, could reduce travel time between Northeast Asia and Europe by a third, or up to two or three weeks,” Teo said. In the near term, the reality is that the Arctic sea routes are likely to remain challenging, he added. He suggested these Arctic routes could be “a seasonal complement” to traditional trade routes like the Suez Canal.
“As the Arctic sea routes open, care will have to be taken to ensure the survival of the vulnerable marine ecosystem. Infrastructure will also have to be further developed to ensure safe shipping in the region,” Teo said.
Singapore was admitted in 2013 as an observer state at the Arctic Council, the premier forum for inter-governmental cooperation amongst the Arctic states.