Despite having gone through a challenging period, the maritime industry in Singapore will soon bounce back due to strong long-term fundamentals, including a deep tripartite relationship with the government and labour unions.

Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo yesterday acknowledged that the past year has been a challenging one for the maritime industry and that there were still worrying signs that remained.

"Shipping companies continue to be affected by weak demand, overcapacity of ships, high fuel prices and growing environmental concerns," Mrs Teo said in her address at the Singapore Shipping Association's (SSA) 28th Anniversary dinner yesterday. "The global maritime outlook today remains cautious, as shipping companies continue to monitor and manage excess tonnage, tight financing and operating costs. Some expect the market to recover earliest in end-2014."

Nevertheless, she pointed out that the maritime sector in Singapore has continued to do well despite these challenges, as Singapore's annual container throughput grew by 6 per cent in 2012 to reach a historic high of 31.6 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU).

"We maintained our global lead in vessel arrival tonnage with 2.25 billion gross tons for 2012, and remained the top bunkering port with about 43 million tons of bunkers sold. For 2013, with the exception of bunker volume, our vessel arrival tonnage, container and cargo throughput to-date have all shown good growth compared to last year."

Building on this positive trend, Mrs Teo assured the 1,800 guests at the gala dinner, mostly from the maritime industry, that the long-term fundamentals for the sector remain strong and that is why the Singapore government has started to "write the next chapter of Singapore's maritime story", including plans to consolidate Singapore's container port activities in Tuas in the long term. "To provide sufficient capacity to accommodate the growth in container shipping, we are planning for Tuas Terminal to handle up to 65 million TEUs each year."

Besides developing infrastructure ahead of demand, she said that the government would also be working with the industry to refine policies concerning the sector, especially investing in developing technology and manpower so as to improve productivity and grow the Singapore core in the sector.

Noting SSA's contributions as a voice of the industry, Mrs Teo praised the strong tripartite partnership that existed between the Singapore government, the shipping industry and the unions.