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Steering the maritime industry through the winds of change

As a child, Ms Shen Wanling was always filled with curiosity when she saw ships anchored off Singapore’s coasts

Many industries were hit hard when the coronavirus swept across the world last year. But by responding quickly and embracing digitalisation, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has ensured that Singapore retains its strategic position as a global maritime hub.

“The role of MPA during this period is especially crucial,” says Ms Shen Wanling, assistant director of the International Maritime Centre (IMC) Division. The IMC works closely with ship owners and operators, partnering them to set up in Singapore and identifying programmes that enable them to further entrench their business operations here.

Ms Shen, 34, who undertook this role before the pandemic hit, recognised the importance of identifying new and innovative ways to maintain existing relationships with maritime companies and build on new ones.

By using telecommunication tools to facilitate business continuity, and hosting virtual discussions, webinars and events, her team managed to keep in close contact with stakeholders to address their needs and secure more maritime investments.

Ms Shen says her team pulled out all the stops to keep the industry resilient during this challenging period. They managed to facilitate safe and efficient crew change at Singapore’s ports, allowing seafarers to disembark and board vessels, while ensuring that strict safety management measures were adhered to.

It has been a lot of hard work. But Ms Shen and her MPA team were gratified when Singapore retained its top spot on the 2020 Xinhua-Baltic International Shipping Centre Development Index for the seventh consecutive year — no mean feat, given the challenges faced by the industry.

A curiosity that led to a career

A career in the maritime sector seemed a natural choice for Ms Shen. As a child, she was always filled with curiosity when she saw ships anchored off Singapore’s coasts. So when she chanced upon the new Bachelor of Science in Maritime Studies at Nanyang Technological University, she took the plunge.

After graduation, Ms Shen joined MPA full-time and worked in two divisions handling international relations and maritime policy. Her experiences included coordinating an international meeting involving over 100 foreign delegates, and participating in key forums such as those organised by the International Maritime Organisation and the United Nations General Assembly.

In 2018, she completed her Master of Public Administration at University College London, which equipped her with the leadership and management skills required to head the Industry Transformation Office upon her return. The Office focuses on strengthening Singapore’s long-term competitiveness as a global maritime hub.

Ms Shen is grateful that MPA has always supported her career development by identifying appropriate training programmes for her. She also credits her success to her mentors and fellow scholarship holders, who provided valuable advice on how to plan her career, while working on her immediate milestones.

Ms Shen’s advice? “A scholarship is not just a means of sponsorship, it’s also a career choice in the near- to mid-term. Think about whether you would find it meaningful to work for the organisation after graduation.”