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Faces of Maritime Singapore: Caroline Yang, the leader inspiring change in Maritime Singapore

Futuristic port facilities, sustainable fuel technologies, and proficient regulatory bodies.

While Singapore can point to several reasons for its rise as a world-class shipping port, Ms Caroline Yang believes that its key strength lies in sustained excellence — by picking the best people for the job.

This also means looking beyond common gender stereotypes in a sector that is generally male-dominated in other parts of the world.

“In Singapore’s context, as long as you are capable and you are willing to step up, I think the opportunities are there. It doesn’t matter what your gender is, there are opportunities for women to chase their dreams if they want to come into the industry,” said the President of the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) and Chief Executive Officer of Hong Lam Marine.

For example, during her first meeting as a Council Member in 2015, she remembers being pleasantly surprised by the diversity in the room. Out of 13 members present, five were female.

Then SSA President Esben Poulsson explained that it was a coincidence that there were many women on the board. Nor were they there because of tokenism, she recalled. 
“In the first meeting we had with Esben, he explained that (having five female members on the board) was not intentional,” said the 55-year-old, who is also a board member of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the Singapore Maritime Foundation.

It was simply because the women deserved to be there, based on their talent and ability, she said.

It was this environment of equal opportunities that inspired Ms Yang to run for and take up the role of President of the SSA in 2019, becoming the first female to helm the association since its inception in 1985.

She pointed to Ms Quah Ley Hoon, Chief Executive of MPA, and Ms Mary Liew, General Secretary at the Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union, to underscore the diversity in the local maritime sector.

“I think we want to teach our young and our females that you are no different from their male counterparts,” she said.

“The key is to stand up and have the courage for their beliefs. I think we try to teach them about those principles.”

Q: Can you take us through the beginning of last year, when COVID-19 hit. What was the most pressing issue you had to work through?
Given Singapore’s reputation as an international maritime centre and regional hub, MPA realised that the port must keep going. We were heartened that the port authority took that view that the port must continue.

SSA stepped up. We worked with MPA and other veterans from the industry. Our SSA Executive Director chaired the Task Group and together, we also came up with the Singapore Crew Change Guidebook. This helped establish a clear accountability and responsibility of different stakeholders that allowed the crew change to proceed properly and safely.

This Crew Change Guidebook was endorsed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which also shared the guidebook with its other member states. The guidebook was continuously updated. And I read from MPA that they facilitated 120,000 crew change between March 2020 and March 2021. As such, I think Singapore should be proud that we were part of this humanitarian effort to bring our crew home.

We could not have done it on our own. We had to work very closely with MPA and I must say we also have very good leadership in MPA. Together with the industry, we managed to get the job done.

Q: 2020 was also a big year for the industry in terms of the regulatory landscape, with IMO 2020 kicking in. At a time where companies may be struggling to keep afloat, is there such a thing as overregulation?
We must remember that shipping is global, and because it is global, it is also disparate. Every country has different rules and regulations. IMO came up with these sets of rules to make sure that ships are safe and that they are built properly. And why do we do that? It is to prevent incidents. We must ensure the safety of our crew, the safety of our ships, the safety of our seas and of our marine diversity.

Although shipping contributes to about 3 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, we do bring 80 per cent of goods around the world. So we need to have an overarching body that regulates the industry.

IMO 2020 has levelled the playing field. Rules help set the agenda – without them there will be some who seek to abuse or take advantage of the system. Overall, the entire industry has benefitted from these rules.

Q: What is your outlook for the maritime industry in 2021 and beyond?
I’m optimistic. I would like to think that maritime is an essential part of our lives. To encourage more to join the industry and to invest in the industry, we should do better.

Putting on my business hat and speaking from a personal point of view, I do see that ship owners have become more disciplined when it comes to their new order books. So you see less orders on books now and more scrapping.

The disciplined approach means that many are not over-ordering and I hope that discipline continues. This is in sharp contrast to a decade ago. Between 2009 and 2011 there was huge oversupply and that really brought down the rates.

Many are also looking at decarbonisation and what kind of fuels ships are burning.

Q: What keeps you up at night? 
What keeps me awake now is really my crew. We really need to bring them home. We need to protect them – that is something that is very personal to me.

I think if you talk to any CEO of any company, they will have that same sense of responsibility towards the staff that work for them.

To make sure you company is doing okay – that’s not only about the staff but also their families. It’s not a burden but a privilege to have this responsibility. This is what keeps me going in the morning.

Publication Date: 13/4/2021


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