Singapore navy launches first submarine safety portal

Singapore navy launches first submarine safety portal

With an increasing number of submarines in the region, the Singapore navy has launched a portal capable of providing these stealthy watercraft with real-time information on potential hazards, including deep-sea oil rigs.

Likening the new Submarine Safety Information Portal to a Google map of the sea, Col David Foo, Commanding Officer of the Submarine Squadron, said that the portal would help submarines navigate amid unmanned underwater vehicles and warship exercises out at sea.

Navy chief Rear Adm Lai Chung Han, who announced the portal’s launch at the closing ceremony of two international defence exercises on Thursday, noted that increased regional merchant traffic, vessels with deeper draughts and larger trawlers, among others, are posing a serious threat to underwater safety, TODAY reported on Friday.

There are currently over 200 submarines in the Asia-Pacific region, with the number set to grow to over 250 by 2030. Singapore has four submarines, with another four slated for delivery from 2021.

The steady increase in the number of submarines and submarine-operating countries across the region makes it even more important for information to be shared, said Rear ADM Lai.

In an interview with TODAY later, Col Foo offered some insights into the navigation challenges faced by submarines as the number of watercraft plying the same seas grew.

Over the past 15 years, there have been nearly 20 reported submarine incidents.

“Submarines ... rely on very limited sensors, essentially by acoustic means only. You don’t have portholes. “You don’t see another submarine or another potential hazard. If there are a growing number of submarines in the region, it may indicate that it could be an accident waiting to happen, so we must do something about it,” he said.

Submarines are meant to be stealthy vessels, and other countries will not share information on the location of their own watercraft.

Stressing that the new information portal would not track the movement of submarines, Col Foo said that it would capture other hazards, such as seismic activity, instead. Rescue missions could also be expedited, with the portal capable of locating the nearest Vessel of Opportunity, a rescue vessel, and mapping the quickest route to the incident location.

The free portal, touted as the world’s first, will be housed at the Singapore navy’s Information Fusion Centre at Changi Naval Base, and builds on the existing database at the centre.

While it is still in the beta phase, Col Foo said that there have been “a lot of” interested countries.

Feedback about the portal will be collated over a year, and the final version will be out in 2019. Other countries are invited to contribute relevant information to the portal.

“They will have other sources of information, for example, fishing information around their coastal areas ... We hope that countries will also open up and share some of this non-sensitive information,” said Col Foo.

“If everyone can contribute, in their own way, they’re contributing to the overall safety of submarines.

“A submarine accident in this region will not do good for anybody,” he added.

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