Chief of Army: Stopover at Xiamen, a purely commercial decision taken by APL

Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Melvyn Ong stated at a media briefing at Choa Chu Kang Camp on Tuesday (29 November) that there was nothing unusual about the nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICVs) transiting in Hong Kong and it was a purely commercial decision for the ship carrying the vehicles to have stopped in Xiamen before going to Hong Kong before they were seized by China.

This is the first press conference held after nine ICVs from Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), were on their way home from an overseas training exercise in Taiwan before they were seized by Hong Kong customs last Wednesday.

MG Ong said, “Hong Kong is a common international port of call for many foreign militaries and many companies also. There have been no issues in the past, so this is a first.”

However, Hong Kong-based investigative news agency, FactWire reported that the ship had also visited Xiamen before it arrived at Hong Kong. In fact, according to FactWire’s sources, the Hong Kong authorities were tipped off that there were undeclared military vehicles on board the ship when it departed Xiamen and knew what they were looking for when they carried out the “routine” investigation.

When asked about the detour to Xiamen before Hong Kong, MG Ong said, “We don’t specify the route. It’s a purely commercial decision taken by APL. But we don’t stop at certain ports with security implications for cargo… For the items on board this particular cargo, there was no need.”

According to MG Ong, the APL ship with the ICVs onboard was carrying over 4000 containers. “Ours was a small footprint; a small volume of cargo in shipping so it makes sense for it to tag on to a large shipment,” he said.

Commercial shipping of military equipment a norm

MG Ong said that commercial shipping of military equipment is somewhat a “norm” for many countries, saying, “It’s a commonly adopted means. Many militaries use it consistently… during peacetime training. It’s the most cost-effective and efficient means of transporting large amounts of equipment.”

He also said, “We have a system in place to ensure how this is done properly. We have an established system for engaging commercial companies. All are required to comply with stringent requirements to protect against tampering and theft – for example, we lock; double lock some containers to ensure the security of goods on board.”

The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) stated that Singapore authorities have provided relevant assistance to the Hong Kong Customs on 24 November when SAF team, along with personnel from shipping contractor APL, were en route to Hong Kong to address the security of the equipment and expect the shipment to return to Singapore expeditiously.

MG Ong said, “We’re still waiting for further confirmation on the ground, to find out exactly what was the reason for the detainment. It will be clearer in a day or two.”

MG Ong said that MINDEF has been working with APL since 1990s. Although there are some other companies contracted to ship its equipment.

“We’ve never had an incident before. But we will take a look… Let’s see how it goes.”

China’s response after armoured vehicles were seized

Just yesterday, China announced that it has lodged a protest with Singapore after nine armoured infantry carrier vehicles (IFVs) from Singapore along with other equipment were seized by Hong Kong customs.

“China has already made representations over this to the Singapore side,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing on Monday.

Earlier on 25 November, when asked about the seized cargo, the China spokesman had reiterated that the Chinese government is firmly opposed to any forms of official interaction between Taiwan and countries that have diplomatic relations with China, military exchanges and cooperation included.

He said, “We call on Singapore to act in accordance with the laws of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in handling the matter,” Geng said. “We oppose any nations that have diplomatic ties with China to have contacts with Taiwan, including military relations,” and added, “We call on Singapore to abide by the one China principle.”

Many citizens voiced their displeasure and disbelief on the incident. Here are what some of the wrote :

  • Johnson Lum wrote, “Years back , it was undertaken by the Navy which is safe and doesn’t not breach the Security. Unfortunately, the bunch of White Monkeys wanted to save a couple of dollars and put the contract under the hand of the commercial and we got screwed big time from China.
    Coming out to justify the use of Commercial shipping is right , what a Joke , Paper General.”
  • Tony Sim wrote, “Its nothing usual or wrong IF you buy out the full capacity of the ship. Then the ship will have no reason to dock at unassigned ports for commerical loading/unloading. Instead, it will follow the assigned routes back home.”
  • Wei Foo wrote, “SAF’s policy of outsourcing “non-core” functions like meal preparation, equipment maintenance and logistics is their biggest archilles heel. You just need disruption in one of them and the dominoes will start falling. Unfortunately, paper generals still can’t see the threat. This one is calling it nothing unusual.
    In reality though, it may not be so easy doing it everything themselves due to the manpower shortage. And for that, you can blame you-know-who for stubbornly refusing to tackle the low birth rate.”
  • Adrian Han wrote, “Military equipment should only use commercial if its hiring out the full boat or have army personnel guarding it . So what’s the point of classified equipment if commercial company is allowed to ship it ? This is really a joke . Just to save a few bucks.”
  • Chin Hua Yak wrote, “”They must also apply for all necessary permits (and) all regulatory requirements while travelling and at ports of call. The contractor has to be responsible for this.” Then why don’t apply? lol.”
  • Chan CL wrote, “No other country ship large military equipment via commercial shipping. What kind of security mindset do you guys have? Unbelievable, especially dealing with a big bully like China.”
  • Calvin Koh wrote, “Guys, again you know something? Always an excuse and reasons from someone. Shipment by own navy more secured or shipment by third party more secured? Always some kind of logic. Maybe No one in the army will question a major general or army chief, but it doesn’t mean they are always right. Is it so difficult to understand Logic?”
  • David Wong wrote, “When you are buddy with gangster’s US inevitably u end up behaving like them. Such comments “nothing unusual’ manifests a culture of impunity. Simple.”
  • Wee Ming wrote, “Lai Liao ! Same pattern of answering and reasoning by our elite scholar! It’s normal mah , our toy car are secure with pad locks and checklist. Power la! China already copy and the next batch of made in china toy car is coming out in no time!
  • Vincent Tan wrote, “The reason why last time China closed one eye while Singapore conduct training in Taiwan was partly due Ma Ying Jiu was president. However ever president Tsai became president and it is well known that she is pro-independence! And Singapore still openly send these equipment in taiwan for training!”