Oceans and Seas

the work of author Michael Krieger

On Patrol: Pt. 2 – Only Miles Away

Posted on Jul 5, 2019

On Patrol: Pt. 2 – Only Miles Away

New Course

The Unity enters the main shipping channel, and as we pass Raffles Light, named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who “founded” the city in 1829 for the British East India Company, she takes a new course, heading east northeast. She joins the shipping lane for eastbound vessels and surges ahead.

Singapore from the sea.

Glassy Seas

On the port bridge wing, a hot wind blasts me, as does the roar of the two MTU diesels. They produce 8,554 horsepower and drive two water jets, which are throwing ten-foot-high wakes as we skim through glassy seas at close to the ship’s maximum of twenty knots. Three or four miles to the north the gigantic Shell refinery covers Bukom Island, and between it and the shipping lanes is its adjunct, Pulau Sebarok (palau means island in Malay/Indonesian). Sebarok is nothing but oil and gas storage tanks. Three 150,000-ton tankers lie alongside, discharging crude, probably from Indonesia, or loading refined product bound perhaps for Europe or America.

The shipping lanes in which we are sailing are some of the busiest in the world. More than 600 vessels a day use Singapore Strait and the Malacca Strait, which meet only a few miles to the west. The Malacca Strait runs roughly north and south between the Indonesian island of Sumatra and, to the east, the Malay Peninsula. Singapore is at the southern tip of that peninsula. Processions of enormous tankers ply these straits daily, carrying an estimated 80 percent of the world’s oil. We are the one patrol boat on duty today in the Singapore Strait to protect them.

Demographics

Further north the skyscrapers of downtown Singapore, only five miles away, rise through the haze. The Republic of Singapore, while only encompassing a fourteen-mile-wide by twenty-six mile-long Island, is the most advanced country in Southeast Asia, the area’s Switzerland, really. Not only is it the regional headquarters for most of the world’s multinational companies and the center of advanced industries, its four million people have the highest standard of living and of education, and enjoy the lowest levels of crime, of anywhere south of Japan and north of Australia. Although the multiracial population comes primarily from three ethnic groups (Chinese constitute over 75% of the total; Malays, 15%; East Indians, 7%), the country has identified itself and has close ties with the West. It is home to both an American air base and a navy supply base; western naval vessels as large as aircraft carriers are maintained and repaired there. Because of these western ties, Singapore has been branded as an enemy by extremists from two of the most populous Muslim nations in the world, Indonesia and Malaysia, which together surround it.

 

 

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