Thursday, May 01, 2008

May Day

Lazy morning.

It's almost noon actually. Did some work that I have brought back from base. All legal of course. It's just the emcee script.

Been busy with the Decommissioning Ceremony for the first ships in Singapore to be armed with missiles. And during this period of preparation, I came across many people and records of the past glories.

I realised that we aren't very good at remembering our past.

Because in the midst of our struggle that we call "the daily grind", we no longer sip our coffees, instead we gulp it down. The taste don't matter. It's the caffeine we need. We no longer share stories or talk to people. Instead we read newspapers and hear about celebrity gossips.

There is this STM tugmaster that I have known by face for years. I came to know that his surname was Mr Lau recently. He told me he was around in STM since 1972, which was when the first of the two Sea Wolf class missile gunboats arrived in Singapore from Germany. Like the successors, our stealth frigates, the idea that technology had to be transferred was apparent way back in 1968 when the government decided to procure the gunboats. The first two missile gunboats were from Germany while the remaining four were made locally.

He was describing to me how he was involved in the ships when he was just a wee lad 20 years of age. Now at the age of 56, he was still with STM. Things had come a complete circle for him. Just like how he was involved in the project to operationalise the ships 36 years ago, he told me, he is again involved with the missile gunboats. But this time, in the project to decommission the ships.

All the while, we were aboard Sea Hawk, awaiting for the tugs to bring her alongside to the West Pier. The location of her Decommissioning Ceremony.

Fanfare was reserved for births and commencements. Confetti raining down to the cheers of a jubliant crowd. You won't find fanfare in a Decommissioning Ceremony. The dignified ceremony has an air of sobriety. A heavy blanket of sombreness that will be punctuated by the lonesome blares of a bugle, sounding out the military retreat.

Before embarking, he was telling me that the ships were not in a bad shape at all. The engines were still capable of reaching speeds in excess of 30 knots (1700rpms) albeit with major overhaul. Compared to our counterparts in the region, it's more than just respectable. It's a miracle. The reliability of these grand dames can be higher than alot of her younger comrades. The hull was still intact although the lack of sailing activity meant that barnacles showed more apparently than metal. Twigs from forsaken nests fall unceremoniously on the bridge-wings. Within the superstructure, the air smelt heavy of bare metal and disuse.

Just before coming alongside, he said way back then he had to work barefoot while preparing the ships for operational service so as to minimise damage to the deckwork. And after office hours, non-military personnel at the yard were not allowed to step aboard. This was because the ships were the first in the region to be equipped with over-the-horizon anti-ship missiles. This was all very hush hush, wink wink, "circle of trust" thing back then.

"It's a pity to see them go" said Mr Lau, just before he disembarked.

There was nary a tinge of sadness nor a hanging tear that needed to be swipe away. Both of us knew these ships weren't the first to go. Neither will they be the last. In the continual effort to be world-class, transformation, as if it were a choice, meant a detachment from the past. And that which is no longer relevant.


Chuang Shyue Chou said...

This is very interesting.

History. Remembrance.

"I realised that we aren't very good at remembering our past."

Those were exactly the same thoughts that I have when I was looking through the photos of a new book that I bought. I just bought a volume, 'Singapore Fifty Years Ago' from the Changi Chapel shop on Sunday. As I read that , I was desperately wishing that there will be compilations that tells stories of urban life here in the seventies and eighties. Our every changing landscapes, or even more aptly, mindscapes, have easily alienated people. I don't know.

Camps, ships, buildings. The people in them. A legacy. Memories.

I appreciate this post that you have put up. It's just something that I think has value, at least for me. A pleasure to read.

Anonymous said...

i dun recall have gone thru any decommissioning parades for any of our aircrafts. we just moth ball them and... no sadness it seems.

.::: .: :.:. :.: ... ::: :. .::. .: :. ::. said...

i think a ceremony of sorts is needed....not for the hardware. but for the people who depended on them.

it's like a chinese funeral. the hullabaloo is for the living.

Chuang Shyue Chou said...

TNC-45. Hmm.. Gabriel Missiles. Hmm..

I suppose you know of the Iraqi debacle involving one of this class of ship in 1991?

.::: .: :.:. :.: ... ::: :. .::. .: :. ::. said...

that many of these crafts operated by the Kuwaiti navy were captured/sunk by the Iraqi navy?

they use the exocet though.