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Self-navigating ships: New-gen tech talent sails into exciting maritime future
By Alan Yuen
Sean Ng X-Press Feeders - SMF Scholarship SPH Scholars Choice
MaritimeONE scholar Sean Ng hopes to use artificial intelligence to help identify the most efficient shipping routes and slash fuel consumption. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/CAROLINE CHIA

Through smart tech and big data analytics, this MaritimeONE scholar wants to help power the traditional sector’s digital transformation

Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen once observed that “software is eating the world”. The same can be said of the maritime industry.

Imagine a fleet of self-navigating ships fitted with advanced software systems that automatically calculate the most fuel-efficient routes. Running 24/7, they will free workers from mundane and repetitive tasks while minimising the risk of human error. 

MaritimeONE scholar Sean Ng is among a new generation of tech talents designing and maintaining new systems that will turn such visions into reality.

“I see myself as part of a bigger picture, as a trailblazer within the maritime industry in Singapore,” says Mr Ng. A third-year computer science undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, he was awarded the X-PRESS FEEDERS – MaritimeONE Scholarship offered by the Singapore Maritime Foundation in 2022.

“One big reason I pursued this scholarship was because I knew Singapore is a strong maritime hub,” he says.

As one of the world’s busiest and most strategically important maritime centres, Singapore is an essential link in the global supply chain. More than 90 per cent of the world’s trade is carried out by sea.

Consequently, the maritime industry is a key pillar of Singapore’s economy, employing over 170,000 people and accounting for approximately seven per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

A successful digital transformation will be vital to securing the country’s long-term status as a premiere hub. Tech talent – with skills in areas such as data analytics, cyber security and green shipping – will be crucial to executing the maritime digitalisation playbook. 

“There is plenty of room for growth and innovation in the maritime sector.”

Mr Sean Ng
Recipient of the X-PRESS FEEDERS – MaritimeONE Scholarship

One area Mr Ng is keen to explore is big data analytics. Vessels are now loaded with sensors and Internet of Things (IOT) devices. These devices allow operators to continuously collect a steady stream of data such as temperature, humidity and gas content. This data can be used to detect food spoilage in containers or alert the crew to gas leaks.

It can also provide valuable insights into their operations and help them make data-driven decisions. For example, organisations can analyse the data to identify the most efficient routes and cargo loading configurations. This will help to slash fuel consumption, which reduces both emissions and costs.

Similar smart technologies are being considered at Tuas Port, a mega project to cement the country’s title as the world’s busiest transshipment port. When fully completed around 2040, it will nearly double Singapore’s capacity to 65 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units).

The new port will be fully automated and digitalised. Innovations being tested include using a vessel traffic management system powered by artificial intelligence. This system can predict congestion hotspots and assist vessel route planning to speed up port operations.

More on this topic: Steering the maritime industry towards post-pandemic efficiencies

Off-the-beaten path

Mr Ng himself was unaware of many of these trends before he applied for the scholarship. His friends were surprised when he announced his plans to enter the maritime industry. 

“A lot of my friends raised their eyebrows,” he says.

Due to the insatiable demand for skilled software engineers, many of Mr Ng’s peers aspired to join technology and finance companies, two of the most sought-after sectors.

While acknowledging he is going off the beaten path and initially doubting his decision, he is excited about his career prospects.

“Why can’t the maritime industry benefit from tech?” he says. “Just like banks are using technology to strengthen their core business, there is plenty of room for growth and innovation in the maritime sector.”

By joining the industry in its early stages of digitalisation, Mr Ng believes he can take on bigger responsibilities and make a larger impact.

To help him prepare for his career, his sponsoring company offered him an internship as part of the scholarship programme. In January 2023, he started a six-month internship at X-PRESS FEEDERS, which provides feeder solutions globally.

The internship aims to provide Mr Ng with real-world industry insights and prepares him to tackle the most pressing problems that need to be solved. It also allows him to apply his passion for software engineering to meaningful work: Bringing digital transformation to a traditional sector while helping to maintain Singapore’s status as a leading maritime hub.

Full steam ahead

The MaritimeONE Scholarship is a joint initiative by Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF) and its scholarship sponsors from the maritime industry to foster talent in the sector.

Besides providing financial support for scholars to pursue both diploma and degree programmes locally or overseas, recipients will also have access to career and internship opportunities. 

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