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Playing a crucial role

SINGAPORE’S maritime industry is on the cusp of change — new strategic plans laid out by the Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map (ITM) were launched on Jan 12. By 2025, it aims to create over 5,000 jobs and grow the sector by $4.5 billion. Contributing to this growth in the bustling maritime industry is Ms Catherine Lai, 27, a manager in MPA’s International division, where she has worked for the past three years. She is a recipient of the MPA Overseas Scholarship, which covers tuition and accommodation fees and a maintenance allowance. The scholarship comes with a six-year bond period. Ms Lai, who was awarded the scholarship in 2010, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business (Double Major in Finance and Marketing) from New York University in 2013, and a Master of Science in Strategic Marketing from Imperial College London in 2014. The scholar is part of a team of 10 officers fronting this department, which ensures that Singapore maintains its status as an influential voice in the global maritime transport arena.

She plays a crucial role, managing relations with strategic partner countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. She says: “Just as in business, the nature of international relations work is dynamic and fastpaced. There is a need to adapt to changes quickly, and make assessments and decisions with limited information and high uncertainty.” Representing Singapore and MPA at international, regional and bilateral meetings where key maritime transport issues are discussed, Ms Lai is particularly involved in the coordination and oversight of MPA’s presence in Tripartite Technical Experts Group and the Co-operative Mechanism on Safety of Navigation and Environmental Protection in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. Both are key platforms in dealing with safety issues in navigation and environmental protection in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. Ms Lai’s duties also include keeping a close watch on developments in the regional and international maritime sphere. Through a careful analysis of these trends, she helps to develop strategies and policies to advance Singapore’s strategic maritime interests.

Strengthening ties

MPA is the driving force behind building Singapore into a thriving international maritime centre. This achievement is a result of cooperating with various local and international stakeholders. Singapore has about a 70 per cent share of the world’s jack-up rig building market and 70 per cent of the global floating production storage and offloading platforms market. It is now the world’s top bunkering port, ranking at number one in three categories: shipping, ports and logistics, according to an April 2017 report by Norwegian consultancy firm, Menon Economics. In line with MPA’s mission, Ms Lai active collaborates with other government agencies, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney-General’s Chambers, to formulate strategies for Singapore’s key maritime transport issues that are being discussed at international maritime forums. She also helps to facilitate and participate in bilateral dialogues with Indonesia and Malaysia to further cement relations between the two countries and Singapore.

Fostering cooperation

One of Ms Lai’s most memorable projects was the Co-operative Mechanism on Safety of Navigation and Environmental Protection in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore (Co-operative Mechanism) in 2015. It is a landmark framework that allows littoral states and users (or any other interested stakeholder) of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore to exchange views and collaborate on initiatives to maintain safety of navigation and protection of the marine environment in the Straits, to keep it safe and open for navigation. She oversaw a series of meetings under the Co-operative Mechanism, spanning seven days, in which about 200 delegates from over 40 countries and organisations participated. She says: “It was a rewarding experience. Apart from functioning as the Secretariat for the meetings, I was also part of the team that oversaw the development of MPA’s strategy and approach to the broad spectrum of issues discussed, and contributed to and represented MPA at discussions on regional frameworks that were being developed for the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.” She credits the various co-curricular activities that she was involved in during her studies, such as the NYU Stern Marketing Society and a consulting project for Virgin Media, in helping her prepare for this role. “Through these experiences, I learnt how to critically examine and solve real-world problems. They were also lessons in stakeholder management. These are skills that continue to be relevant and which I continue to hone,” she says.

Learning opportunities

Ms Lai shares that the scholarship provided her with first-hand experience of the inner workings of the maritime industry even before graduation. Ms Lai was involved in various high-level meetings with senior foreign transport officials, helped out at the International Maritime Organization’s council elections in London and took a three-month internship at the International Division of MPA, where she currently works. The scholar says her internship and the network she cultivated through interactions with industry stakeholders and other public service officers helped her to prepare for her current role. “The hands-on experience was an eye-opener to the myriad roles that MPA takes on. It was also my first taste of what I soon came to value most about MPA as an organisation — its diverse functions and its emphasis on grooming younger officers by providing them with the space, resources and opportunities to grow in their careers.” MPA also provided her with other learning opportunities. She was selected to participate in the 11th IFLOS Summer Academy at the seat of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany, last year. During the intensive programme, which covered international law of the sea and maritime law, she learned from a prestigious faculty comprising judges of the Tribunal and renowned experts in the maritime field. She also interacted with professionals from diverse legal and cultural backgrounds who are involved in ocean governance and international maritime dispute settlement in their respective countries.

The road ahead

Ms Lai welcomes new initiatives and hopes to continually be at the heart of change in the coming years. With the ITM in place, and the industry looking to drive human capital development, there will be opportunities to advance her career further. She says: “I’m keen to gain exposure and contribute to the other functions of MPA. I’ll be working closer with the industry to develop and progress Singapore’s status as a vibrant International Maritime Centre.”