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Small investigative team with big goals

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Marine safety investigators looking to boost its numbers as sector expands

A small team charged with improving safety in the maritime sector wants to boost its headcount.

There are four marine safety investigators under the Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB), a Transport Ministry department, compared with 10 tasked with looking into aviation incidents.

TSIB deputy director Captain Kunal Nakra, who leads the marine safety investigators, said a larger team is needed.

His investigators look into serious marine casualties involving Singapore-registered ships and foreign-registered vessels in Singapore waters.

The four investigators each have more than 20 years of experience in the maritime sector.

They are supported by three volunteers from the industry who are gazetted to assist in investigations in their areas of expertise, such as engineering.

Investigations are conducted in accordance with standards and practices set out by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a body under the United Nations that oversees the commercial shipping sector.


Captain Kunal, 40, does not rule out recruiting from outside the industry, noting that such a candidate could bring "a different dimension" to the team, although there would be a steep learning curve for someone with no seafaring experience.

This experience helps them to better understand the incidents they look into and better relate to crew members during investigations, he noted.

"They view us as their friends because they know that you have been where they are so it kind of helps to break that barrier," Captain Kunal added.

Strengthening the team is especially necessary given how busy Singapore's port is, with thousands of vessels in local waters at any one time, noted fellow marine safety investigator Yeo Lee Chuan, 44.

"There are a lot of vessels in our small waters," said Mr Yeo.

The sector is expected to grow in the coming years, with the upcoming Tuas port able to handle 65 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) annually - well up on the the 50 million TEUs individual container terminals can handle now.

Captain Kunal, who was speaking to The Straits Times ahead of the sixth annual International Safety @ Sea Week which begins today, said his team handles as many as 10 to 12 incidents a year, a "large chunk" involving fatalities.

Its work is to look into the causes of such incidents and recommend preventative measures. A report is also produced for the IMO.

"What we try to find out is whether the system allows individuals to perform their work safely," Captain Kunal added.