March 18 – 19, 2012
Arrival Singapore. The Singapore Straits are one of the busiest in the world, it’s a bottleneck for shipping, where both eastbound and westbound meet in a narrow neck of water. Nowadays, a modicum of organisation exists; the lanes are divided, more akin to a dual-carriageway, (or 2-lane highway), with a central reservation, or median in the centre. One can’t actually ‘see’ these lanes of course, they are marked on charts and courses and intended routes are laid off to follow these ‘lanes’.
The Straits are monitored by a VTS, or Vessel Traffic System, which oversees every vessel that enters their area; this has a vast coverage, not only the shipping lanes, but the sprawling harbour of Singapore itself. Literally hundreds of ships fall under their remit, from small barges to massive, deep-draft VLCCs, (Very Large Crude Carriers). These ‘babies’ are carrying millions of barrels of oil each, are hundreds of metres in length and draw over 60 feet (over 20 metres) of water. They are particularly vulnerable in these congested and, (to them), shallow waters. Unable to mark large alterations or move out of ‘deep-water’ routes (which are specially designed for them), they rely on the good seamanship of other vessels and the watchful eye of the VTS to ‘shepherd’ them.
Our early morning passage through the Straits was such that we had watches doubled and a senior officer on the bridge at all times, no autopilot here, hand steering all the way as we plotted targets. It is a long time since I have seen so many ships in one place, hundreds of them, literally. Some anchored, waiting for berths or orders from their owners, others transiting the Straits and in the mix, unlit barges and fishing boats, their occupants having little regard for their own safety or others.
A pilot at 6:30 a.m. and a move to the PSA terminal, as we had drawn the ‘short straw’; the Cruise terminal was occupied until 4 p.m. and the only alternative was a berth on the Container ship wharf until we could move. We docked at 8 a.m. and our guests either joined their tour buses on the pier, or caught one of the many shuttle-buses, which took them to a drop-off point at the Cruise terminal. The option of walking ashore did not exist; with massive ‘box-boats’ and car-carriers all around us, it was a dangerous place for a pedestrian; trucks, cars, tractor-trailers were everywhere, bustling around like hens nursing their chicks.
We were due to shift at 4 p.m., however, as with the best laid plans, nature and a recalcitrant bunker-barge skipper affected us. All ready to let go, the barge still tied alongside, the skipper and crew could not be seen. Much blowing of the whistle and constant calls on the radio had absolutely no effect, perhaps they were having lunch? Had they become the ‘Mary Celeste’? We had no idea, it was utterly frustrating. Then, hallelujah! They appeared, however they were in no rush to leave us and moved in their own, slow time. Just when I thought we could leave, the dark, threatening clouds which were lying too our north, suddenly unleashed a torrent of rain and with it came wind squalls of over 30 mph.
Eventually, the wind subsided as fast as it had arrived and we made the short journey to the Cruise terminal, berthing on the other side of the Zaandam, which was just about to start her cruise.
Another day for guests and crew to enjoy this modern and exciting city. Spotlessly clean, modern architecture melding with colonial buildings, it has something for everyone.
Most were disappointed at having to leave, which we did at 11 p.m. Out of Keppel basin and into the mayhem of Singapore harbour, ships everywhere again, coming and going, dashing hither and thither, the radar looked like a bad case of measles, spots everywhere.
We disembarked our pilot and swung south-west, filtering into the traffic lanes once more, making our way towards Phuket, Thailand.