The maritime industry can be cautiously optimistic about the months ahead after what looks like a record-setting year in 2014.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said last night that advanced estimates showed that 33.9 million containers - known as twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) - passed through local ports last year.

That is 4 per cent higher than the 32.6 million TEUs recorded in 2013, itself a record.

Vessel arrival tonnage rose 1.9 per cent last year to 2.37 billion gross tonnage and Singapore also kept its pole position as the world's top bunkering port, with 42.4 million tonnes sold last year.

While the container throughput was a record, it fell short of the 35.3 million TEUs handled by Shanghai's ports, which announced its volume numbers earlier this week.

That meant Shanghai's ports were again the world's busiest - a title it has held since wresting it from Singapore in 2010.

Nevertheless, Mr Lui said that Singapore continues to attract a broad range of maritime enterprises, with new shipping companies and maritime service providers coming on board.

These include shipowner-operator Bumi Armada and International Group Protection & Indemnity Club, Gard, while existing players like ship operators Berge Bulk and Milestone Chemical Tankers have expanded their operations.

External factors also seem to be providing tailwinds for the sector, noted Mr Lui, who was speaking to about 300 industry leaders at the Singapore Maritime Foundation's 2015 New Year cocktail reception at Conrad Centennial Singapore Hotel yesterday.

He is cautiously optimistic about the industry's prospects for this year. "Some improvement in 2015 is indeed possible. Any recovery is most likely as a result of falling costs than any meaningful increase in freight rates."

Mr Lui also mapped out the blueprint for the industry, which involves significant investment in port infrastructure as well as in developing manpower talent.

Expansion work at Pasir Panjang Terminal is proceeding as scheduled and reclamation will be under way at Tuas to build a new port to consolidate all of Singapore's container port activity.

Safety will not be overlooked, with the Maritime and Port Authority working closely with the industry to review measures.

Mr Lui noted that there will be no let-up in efforts to train Singaporeans for the industry.

Scholarships have also been awarded to attract people to the sector.