It was, as Esben Poulsson pointed out at this year’s Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) annual bash, back in 2002 that transport minister Khaw Boon Wan made a call for the Lion City to become ‘London Plus’. Khaw was guest of honour at this year’s SSA dinner – the first time he’d been back at the massive shipping gathering for 14 years.
Readers might recall that Singapore’s maritime development strategy at the turn of the century called for the former British colony to model itself on London. In 2016, London looks small fry to mighty Singapore, a picture perfectly encapsulated I would argue with the Singapore Exchange’s acquisition of the venerable Baltic Exchange, an exclusive first broken by Splash this May.
The latest Xinhua-Baltic Exchange Shipping Centre Development Index published in 2016 ranked Singapore as the top shipping centre among 43 global maritime hubs and it was also ranked first as the world’s leading maritime capital in a Menon study last year.
Nevertheless, I am not alone in wondering whether Singapore has reached ‘peak ownership’. At repeated exclusive roundtables we have organised with the island’s top shipowners this year there is a growing feeling that Singapore has probably topped out in terms of the number of owners based here. Issues with costs and human resources dominate.
This year we’ve seen a number of offshore owners quit the Lion Republic, while Maersk Line has switched its Asia HQ from Singapore to Hong Kong, and Japan’s Mitsui OSK Lines has canned its Singapore dry bulk subsidiary.
SSA’s Poulsson is aware that the city must up its game once again to stay at the top. “The Singapore proposition is still there,” he tells me, “but we need to be on our toes because when you are number one there is only one place to go.”
In short, there is no room for complacency – just ask London!
This article forms the editor’s comment in our fourth annual Singapore Market Report – a 28-page magazine that launches today. Readers of Splash can access the full magazine for free online by clicking here.