Prevention of Pollution of the Sea (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Dennis Tan Lip Fong


(Delivered in Parliament on 8 May 2017)


Madam, by this proposed Prevention of Pollution of the Sea (Amendment) Bill, the Government intend to ratify and bring into force the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004.

Ships have been using sea water as ballast to stabilize ships at sea for more than a hundred years. Sea water is pumped into or out of ships to achieve safe and desirable operating conditions for the ships. It helps the ship to maintain stability and enhances manoeuvrability especially when the sea conditions or the volume of cargo or fuel and water onboard a vessel may change in the course of each voyage. Stress on the ship’s hull may also be reduced accordingly with the use of ballast water.

A ship may take in seawater for ballast at a particular location and discharges the same water at a different part of the world. What this mean is that the ship will unwittingly transport all the micro-organisms and marine species in the sea water from one part of the world to another part of the world. Such species may include microbes, bacteria, small invertebrae, larvae, eggs and cysts of different species. Frequently some of such species may survive and reproduce in the new environment where they have been discharged, compete with the local species and becoming effectively pests in the new environment and affecting the new environment adversely. As the volume of sea traffic grew with the rise of international trade over the last 50 years, the environmental impact of invasive species caused by discharged ballast water have started to pose serious ecological, economic and health issues.

This is the backdrop for the introduction of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments even back in 2004. The Ballast Water Convention introduces global regulations to control the transfer of potentially invasive species. Under the Ballast Water Convention, ballast water will need to be treated before it is released into a new location, so that any microorganisms or small marine species are eliminated before the ballast water is discharged into the open marine environment again.

Under the Ballast Water Convention, all ships must install appropriate ballast water treatment systems. Ships must have a Ballast Water Record Book recording the occasions when ballast water is taken on board or treated for Ballast Water Management purposes, discharged into a reception facility as well as any accidental discharges of ballast water. The aim is to prevent, minimize and ultimately eliminate the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens through the control and management of ships’ ballast water and sediments.

As Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the world and sits by one of the busiest sea channels in the world, we have many vessels coming into our port waters or passaging through nearby seas. The risks of invasive species causing ecological damage to our seas and marine environment cannot be discounted.  Madam, this is one reason why I support this Bill.

The second reason why I support this Bill is that, as Singapore is among the top 5 largest ship registries in the world and has over 4000 ships under its registry, the operation of our Singapore flagged ships do not just affect our Singapore waters but also affect the seas all around the world as the ships ply international waters.

It has taken a while for Singapore to introduce the Ballast Water Convention into our legislation. The Convention came out in 2004. Yes, it will only come into force worldwide on 8 September 2017. But given the environmental issues I mentioned, and given the fact that we have one of the busiest ports in the world, one of the five largest ship registries in the world and one of the leading maritime hubs in the world, if the Government is of the view that such a convention is the right way forward, then perhaps we should have ratified the convention earlier. In contrast, by way of examples, Malaysia ratified the Ballast Water Convention in 2010 and Australia and Indonesia in 2016.

Madam, on the issue of the maximum penalties listed under the different provisions of the Amendment Bill, I know some of the sentences have been increased but I am still concerned whether they are adequate especially the fines on errant shipowners.

Madam I am in support of the Bill.