Spotlight on Singapore
Solis Marine has entered a new period of expansion to provide a wider range of services across South-East Asia, working with a growing client base. Ken Ellam, General Manager of the Singapore office, outlines current and future plans to meet the opportunities of the next decade.
It is almost 10 years since Solis Marine Consultants was launched with offices in Singapore and London.
Since then the company has grown organically, establishing a firm foothold and a solid reputation for marine salvage, wreck removal, navigational incidents and causation and more recently cargo and marine warranty surveys.
Momentum was temporarily paused as the pandemic forced the region to reconfigure how it operates around a strict set of protocols.
Now Solis Marine is scaling operations ready for a push into South-East Asia, creating new opportunities to work with the company. Plans are in place to recruit engineers, naval architects, mariners and surveyors working out of the region in the next year or two.
The expansion is led by General Manager Ken Ellam who has worked in Singapore since 2008, gaining extensive regional experience. He joined Solis Marine in 2016 to take the business forward.
“We have established a broad reach business which has grown significantly over the past five years,” said Ken. “While Covid disrupted our plans last year, we have recently hired Liew Jun Hao as a naval architect and expect to end the year with another mariner, engineer and naval architect on the team. This will put us in a great place with a solid team as a springboard for the next chapter.
“Covid really changed things last year, but we ensured that we complied with all requirements so we could continue to provide our clients with the levels of service expected. It still remains a particularly challenging area in which to work and the requirements are ever changing.”
From January vaccinations were rolled out across the marine sector as it was deemed an essential service by the Singapore government. To continue to be of assistance to our clients, all staff are enrolled on the Rostered Routine Testing programme (RRT) which currently requires staff to participate in a seven-day testing cycle. This is required by the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) to ensure the marine industry can keep working as new restrictions apply.
Upwards of 7,000 ships a month call at Singapore and to remain at the forefront of key issues such as crew changes, the MPA has to be commended for the measures it has in place to facilitate crew changes and accommodate seafarers safely as they sign on and off their designated vessels.
“The main challenge is to keep abreast of the evolving regulations to ensure that we can continue to work, using the period to prepare for the next level when current restrictions are eased. We are now looking to expand our footprint in the region with various options for expansion both organically and via the Alliance network,” said Ken.
One of the most challenging projects undertaken by the Solis Marine team to date was the development of traffic management protocols to be used within the traffic separation scheme (TSS) in the Singapore Strait during the survey and recovery of the THORCO CLOUD wreck.
The general cargo ship was outbound from Batu Ampar in December 2015 when it was involved in a collision and sank. Because it happened in their waters, the Indonesia Marine Authorities (Seacom) required that the wreckage be recovered.
It was no mean feat setting out an exclusion zone in an area with such a huge volume of traffic, with more than 200 ships passing the wreck site every 12 hours.
“It was a complicated scenario trying to manage the expectations of all parties,” said Ken.
“Working across two marine departments in two governments was a challenge to try and develop a traffic management system to satisfy both parties. The survey and wreck removal operations combined took more than five months to complete and this was done without major incident.”
You can read the full THORCO CLOUD case study here.
Navigating The Future
Technology and industry data are playing a growing role in the resolution of marine accidents and the future proofing of global shipping. Singapore is at the leading edge of marine innovation as the current development of the new Tuas mega port demonstrates.
When fully completed it will be world’s largest fully automated terminal with automated wharf and yard functions and full-electric driverless guided vehicles.
The early adoption of sustainable tech across the marine sector appeals and aligns with Solis Marine’s naval architecture and engineering practices which are working with other leaders to advance the fields of autonomous surface ships, modern electric powered ferries and offshore renewables.
But traditional skills and experience hold fast and in the days before computers and load programmes, the satisfaction of sailing out of a port having manually completed a ship discharge and load was very real.
“There was a sense of achievement in being able to plan the loading of a ship manually and being able to get it right and get it to the right destination and not lose cargo over the side,” said Ken.
“On the salvage side, there’s also a sense of satisfaction when you actually refloat a ship and your plans have come to fruition. It’s a job which consistently poses operational challenges. Out of the box thinking is required to come up with the right solutions.”
No two salvage operations are ever the same and Ken has managed two typically unconventional cases.
When the chemical tanker BUNGA ALPINIA caught fire in Labuan, Malaysia (July 2012), the salvage company Ken managed was appointed to transfer 15,000 tonnes of its methanol cargo to a reception tanker.
The second was a remote operation to recover the remainder of the bunker fuel oil from the RFA DARKDALE which was torpedoed in 1941 off Jamestown, St Helena Island.
“We mobilised all our equipment from Singapore and Cape Town for that job. We had three vessels involved in that operation, we mobilised one of Swire’s D Class anchor handlers from Aberdeen and another smaller vessel from Dubai as well as a chemical tanker to store the recovered oil. We also installed mezzanine decks on the D Class vessel to accommodate the two dive systems and all of the oil recovery equipment. It was really a complex job,” said Ken.
“The operational planning was phenomenal. We spent six weeks in St Helena recovering around 1500 cubic metres of marine pollutants from the wreck.”
To work in salvage requires drive and passion. Two things that will never change.