Navy protects Singapore waters amid pandemic and rising piracy
Navy specialist says long periods away from family and wearing N95 mask in addition to heavy gear was part of Covid-19's impact
When Covid-19 hit Singapore in January and the circuit breaker period saw most Singaporeans working from home, it hit personnel of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) hard.
Especially those who had to be out at sea with one eye on keeping our waters safe, and another on making sure there was no virus breakout on board their vessels.
Master Sergeant Kevin Nicholas Simon, 30, an Accompanying Sea Security Teams (ASSeT) senior specialist with the 180 Squadron, recalled how he had to spend two weeks away from his family each time, isolated away from the rest of the community as he went out on operations at sea.
He said: "When we first got the news, I was quite down.
"But although the pandemic was happening, the threat was still out there at sea. We still needed to go and board vessels (for checks) and there were still ships coming into Singapore waters."
MSG Simon said his biggest challenge now is putting on an N95 mask during operations.
"Our gear with everything on weighs about 15kg to 20kg. And we have to climb about six to seven metres (to board ships) wearing the N95 mask," he said.
"By the time you are on the ship you are breathless."
The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC) recently reported that there has been a sharp spike in incidents in the Singapore Strait.
There were a total of 33 incidents from January to last month, compared to just 23 in the same period last year.
But none of these incidents happened in Singapore waters.
Commenting on this increase, Rear Admiral Yong Wei Hsiung, 40, the commander of the Maritime Security Task Force, said the pandemic could be a reason causing more people to turn to piracy in the region.
He said: "It's not rocket science. We know Covid-19 has affected economies around the world.
"People need to feed their families and so in a way I think that may be one source as to why we see an increase in some of the attempted sea robberies, sea thefts in our region."
RADM Yong added that the monsoon season could also be a factor, as fishermen may find it harder to fish out at sea.
"Potentially they may need alternate sources of income, but again this is just speculation on our part," he said.
"It's not impossible to imagine given the economic situation."
Associate Professor Goh Puay Guan, from the Department of Analytics and Operations at the National University of Singapore's Business School, said Singapore's sea routes are important to the continued flow of goods in maritime trade and to Singapore's position as a trading hub.
He said: "Piracy will impact the shipping lanes and disrupt shipping and trade, which could have an impact on economic activity, as well as the safety of ships and crew.
"Consumers will not see the immediate effects directly. However, if the costs of goods go up due to higher insurance and freight costs, then consumers may feel the effects."