Monday, October 24, 2011

Through the Strait of Malacca to Singapore

Ships in the Strait of Malacca

Blog Entry #39: Through the Strait of Malacca to Singapore

Monday, October 24, 2011

Our position 1/2 way through the Strait of Malacca
View of the South China Sea
We left Penang Friday evening, and circled to the north and west of the island to reimmerse ourselves into the sea-lanes, heading south.  Our itinerary the past two days took us through the famous Strait of Malacca, the 500-mile long narrow body of ocean between the Indonesian island of Sumatra to the west and the Malay Peninsula to the east.

Cargo ship alongside the MV Explorer
Ships burning fuel in Strait of Malacca
Seen as a strategic area for shipping and trade since the first ocean-going ships and traders, over 50,000 ships pass through the Strait of Malacca today, carrying roughly 25% of the world’s traded goods and the world’s oil.  Piracy has been a significant concern in recent years, and we noticed both the occasional military ship traversing the waters, as well as our own increased speed to nearly 25 knots. 

Ships ahead of us passing through the Strait of Malacca
Breakfast with Ann Brinker in the Strait of Malacca 
The change was immediately obvious: whereas in the stretch of the south Atlantic from Ghana to Capetown we saw very few other ships, now there were usually at least a dozen – and at times several dozen – ships of various sizes accompanying us as we headed south, or passing us on their way north.

After nearly 24 hours of steady travel, we began to see land and islands on both sides of us, as both Indonesia to the west and Malaysia to the south came into view.  Our destination was Singapore, where we were scheduled to “bunker” over night for refueling.
Sunset as we arrive in Singapore harbor
Strip mine on Indonesian island near Singapore
We reached the massive oil refinery port area of Singapore just at sunset, after passing several beautiful Indonesian islands, one of which is scarred by a large open-pit mine.
Ships in Singapore harbor at sunset, October 23, 2011
Oilrig platform in Singapore harbor
Coming into the oil refinery port area of Singapore as night fell was surrealistic, as there were dozens of lit-up ships in the harbor area, as well as several brightly lit oil platforms, while on shore we could see many oil tanks and towers at the refineries. Singapore is one of the world’s top three oil-refining centers, and the world’s largest oilrig producer, and we could see evidence of both in the extensive harbor and oilrig center where we bunkered overnight.  Conspicuously missing from view was the downtown of Singapore itself – we wondered where it was as we gazed through the hazy light toward shore.

Skyscrapers & ships entering Singapore
The mystery was resolved the following day when, refueling complete, we left the industrial harbor area, re-entered the main shipping canal, and continued east.  At its narrowest point just south of Singapore, the Strait of Malacca is only about 1.5 miles wide, and we noticed the concentration of ships and boats – with several small fishing boats adjacent to large cargo ships – increasing as we went.

Singapore skyline from the Strait of Malacca
Marina Bay Sands Resort & Casino, Singapore
Suddenly as we went around one shallow island, there the skyline of Singapore emerged, looking like Oz’s Emerald City on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula.  I confess I was not prepared for – and was stunned by – the collection of brilliant skyscrapers that crowd the shore, with some amazing architectural styles, including the Marina Bay Sands Resort, a set of three tall buildings with a ship on top of them (really!), next to a very large Ferris Wheel.

Sadly, just as we were passing Singapore, it was time for me to teach class, so I headed inside – but it was difficult to compete with Singapore for attention!

The Singapore skyline

This morning we awoke to stunning clouds over the South China Sea, as we make our way north to Vietnam – our destination tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. WOW what adventures you have had. I just caught up with India and Maylasia after my own trip to New England for the fall colors. Thanks for the vivid detail and the great pictures. I remember many of the same reactions to India from my dads trip there in the 80s. Continued good travels.