SCHOLARS'

EXPERIENCE

Helping ships navigate the busy traffic around Singapore waters
By Azlinda Said
An engineer with MPA, Ms Melissa Ng is the only woman on her team and is not afraid of getting hands-on with the job, alongside her male colleagues.
PHOTO: FRENCHESCAR LIM

MPA scholar Melissa Ng maintains the traffic management system at remote sites to ensure the safety of vessels

Ms Melissa Ng’s job takes her to little-known offshore islands, the rooftops of buildings across Singapore and lighthouses scattered along the country’s coastline. Some of the remote sites include Sultan Shoal Lighthouse located off Tuas Port and Raffles Lighthouse located in Pulau Satumu.

These work trips, she quips, are like going on day tours to rediscover Singapore – except that they serve to ensure the safety of ships that ply the waters in and around the world’s busiest transshipment port.

Reaching the remote sites, however, is no walk in the park. Some old buildings have no lifts – one of the sites requires Ms Ng to climb up 15 floors of stairs to get to the roof – while other places take anywhere between one hour and 2.5 hours to reach via ferry. However, Ms Ng takes all of this in her stride.

“It is nice to be able to go off-site. The scenery at these remote sites is rather interesting – most of these places are not accessible to the public so you get to see a lot of greenery and nature at its best. It is a pleasant change of environment from sitting at your desk all day, almost like a mini getaway,” she says.

Having been with the port systems operation and support department of Maritime and Port Authority Singapore (MPA) for almost two years, the 24-year-old engineer’s job scope also involves maintaining systems which are needed to support vessel traffic management operations, such as the CCTV and the shipmast height detection systems. 

The MPA overseas scholar graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Engineering. Even though she started working right out of school and she did not know what to expect at her first job, she was ready and eager to learn how to run port operations.

“I wanted to be in a job which was more on-the-ground rather than focused on policy. It is important to know about the day-to-day operations and see MPA’s core work to understand the concerns of our colleagues,” she explains.

JILL OF ALL TRADES

Hitting the ground running seemed daunting at first, especially as she had to learn the ropes while being the only woman on her team. Communication and collaboration were also that much harder, given that Ms Ng was working from home most of the time.

“With limited face-to-face interaction, it was difficult to get to know colleagues from other departments, which is an important part of my job. It helps to know people from various departments as it is easier to ask questions when you are familiar with each other. I had to make the effort to engage with more people – after all, nobody knew me then, so it is up to me to take the initiative to say ‘Hi’,” she reflects.

Her initial worries were quickly dispelled, thanks to patient and experienced colleagues who were happy to guide her along the way.

“I was assigned a buddy who introduced me to the necessary protocols and brought me around to various remote sites to meet our maintenance contractors. Other colleagues also patiently explained to me where every piece of equipment was located at the site and told me about site conditions beforehand so that I would know when to wear gloves and safety boots or apply mosquito repellent,” she says.

“My colleagues really took care of me so it did not feel awkward being the only young female around. In terms of the actual work, I do not think that being a female (in a male dominated working environment) makes much of a difference anyway, as long as you are willing to try different things and are not afraid of heights or getting dirty,” she adds.

Visit mpa.gov.sg/web/portal/home/about-mpa/mpa-careers/mpa-scholarships for more information.

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