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Briefs: Baltimore bridge collapse reverberates from cars to coal; Singdollar’s stellar run seen ending

The Edge Singapore
The Edge Singapore • 8 min read
Briefs: Baltimore bridge collapse reverberates from cars to coal; Singdollar’s stellar run seen ending
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg calls the Francis Scott Key Bridge “one of the cathedrals of American infrastructure. Photo: Bloomberg
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Quoteworthy: "Can you imagine you’re being asked to provide information to be used to prosecute your parent?" –— Mokhzani Mahathir revealed that Malaysia’s anti-graft agency has asked him to assist with a graft probe of his father, Mahathir Mohamad

Baltimore bridge collapse reverberates from cars to coal

The 1.6-mile (approximately 2.5km) long bridge collapsed in seconds. The catastrophic consequences are set to stretch out for weeks. As much as 2.5 million tons of coal, hundreds of cars made by Ford Motor and General Motors and lumber and gypsum are threatened with disruption after the Singapore-flagged container ship Dali slammed into and brought down Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge in the early hours of March 26. 

Six people were presumed dead after a search in the Patapsco River, officials said on the evening of March 26. The toll could have been worse except for a mayday call from the Singaporean-flagged vessel as it lost power. A major commuter bridge in Baltimore collapsed after being struck by a container ship, causing vehicles to plunge into the water.

The aftermath of the bridge’s collapse throws another spotlight on the fragile nature of global supply chains, which have already been strained by drought in Panama and missile attacks on Red Sea shipping by Yemen-based Houthi militants. Docks in New Jersey and Virginia face the threat of being overwhelmed by traffic being forced away from Baltimore, one of the busiest ports on the US East Coast. 

Baltimore only handled about 3% of all East Coast and Gulf Coast imports in the year through Jan 31, said S&P Global Market Intelligence. However, cars and light trucks must have European carmakers such as Mercedes-Benz Group, Volkswagen and BMW operating facilities in and around the port. It is also the second-largest terminal for US coal exports, with a shutdown potentially hitting shipments to India.  

See also: Asian currencies can withstand a rampant US dollar

According to IHS Markit and Wood Mackenzie’s Genscape, about a dozen large vessels and a similar number of tug boats are stuck inside Baltimore’s harbour. The list includes cargo ships, automobile carriers and a Palanca Rio tanker. 

The Francis Scott Key Bridge — named for the man who wrote the text of the US national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner — took five years to build and was completed in 1977. Based on one estimate, the cost at the time was around US$141 million ($189 million). A rebuild today will likely cost “several billion dollars,” says Freemark. 

US President Joe Biden said he wants the federal government to pay and vowed “to move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge.” But Baltimore is in for a lengthy reconstruction. It could be weeks before any port operations resume, as officials need to remove bridge debris and the 984-foot (299 m) Dali from the river. 

See also: IMF keeps Singapore growth forecast at 2.1%

This is likely to speed up cargo movement to the US West Coast to dodge congestion from Boston to Miami. Ryan Petersen, the founder and CEO of Flexport, a digital freight platform in San Francisco, explains that even a modest 10% to 20% surge in port traffic can lead to significant delays and congestion.

Traversing Maryland, meanwhile, threatens to create headaches for motorists and truckers. A trip from Edgemere heading south to Glen Burnie was about 15 miles over the bridge. It is 20 miles via the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. The trip will be even tougher for truckers hauling hazardous materials, which are barred from the tunnel. They would have to travel 45 miles on the Baltimore Beltway. 

“This is one of the cathedrals of American infrastructure,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg notes. “The path to normalcy will not be easy, it will not be quick, it will not be inexpensive, but we will rebuild together.” — Bloomberg

Iswaran hit with eight new charges tied to MRT viaduct works by Lum Chang

Former Transport Minister S Iswaran was handed eight new charges on March 25, bringing the total to 35. He is alleged to have received various gifts between November 2021 and November 2022 from Lum Kok Seng, managing director of construction firm Lum Chang Holdings L19 -

, which was the contractor for additional works done on MRT viaducts near and at Tanah Merah MRT Station. The contracts were awarded by the Land Transport Authority, under the purview of Iswaran as the then Minister of Transport.

The new charges are under Section 165 of the Penal Code, which makes it a crime for public servants to accept gifts from parties involved with them in an official capacity.

In the latest charges tendered on March 25, Iswaran, 61, is alleged to have received from Lum golf clubs, alcohol and a Brompton bicycle worth a total of $18,956.94.

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In response to a pointed follow-up query by the Singapore Exchange S68 -

Group, Lum Chang says that Lum has attended “several” interviews by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and that no charges have been filed nor restrictions imposed on him.

“The board and the nominating committee have assessed the above and have determined that Mr Lum continues to be suitable to carry out his duties and responsibilities as managing director of the company unless there are subsequent developments which require the board and the nominating committee to make a re-assessment,” the company says.

According to the Attorney General Chambers (AGC), the value of gifts received by Iswaran under Section 165 of the Penal Code is $237,015.89. The total amount under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) charges has reached $166,282.03.

The bulk of the previous charges allege that Iswaran received tickets to concerts, soccer matches, F1 races, accommodation at luxury resorts and business class flights from entities related to Ong Beng Seng, who has been heading the Singapore organiser of the annual F1 races, Singapore GP. Ong is also the managing director of Hotel Properties H15 -

Limited. In addition, Iswaran faces two charges under the PCA, one of which is obstruction of justice. He is not pleading guilty.

In a statement issued to the media, the AGC said it would decide on the investigations against Lum after the case against Iswaran had been completed, including the presentation of evidence in court. — The Edge Singapore

Singdollar’s stellar run seen ending on monetary easing

The Singapore dollar’s two-year streak as the top-performing Asian currency is seen ending this year as the nation’s central bank may start loosening its policy as soon as April. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which uses the exchange rate as its main policy tool rather than interest rates, has let the local dollar appreciate against major trading partners’ currencies to counter price pressures. That may change now as inflation shows signs of slowing. 

“The period of Singapore dollar’s outperformance may be ending as we expect the MAS to commence monetary policy normalisation” in April, says Peter Chia, FX strategist at United Overseas Bank U11 -

U11 –0.1% Remove Stock. “While it may still strengthen against the US dollar, the gains will likely lag regional peers going forward.”

This year, the local currency weakened about 2% against the dollar, slipping to Asia’s middle of the pack. A change in the monetary settings could cause further pain for the currency, lowering its chances of leading the region for a third straight year. 

After inflation cooled in January, traders will monitor February data this week to see if it opens the door for an easing in the MAS policy next month. The MAS targets the Singapore dollar’s nominal effective exchange rate, or S$NEER and adjusts the pace of its appreciation or depreciation by changing the currency band’s slope, width and centre.

DBS Bank sees the central bank waiting a bit longer before easing its policy. “Our view is still for a slight reduction in the slope in July,” says Philip Wee, senior currency economist at the bank. 

Besides local factors, the Federal Reserve’s moves may also weigh on the Singapore dollar more than its peers. Last week, the Fed signalled it remained on track for three interest-rate cuts this year. “Asian currencies underperform the Singapore dollar when the Fed’s stance keeps the US dollar firm and recover faster when it relaxes the stance,” adds Wee. — Bloomberg

Malaysia mulls extending rail project to Thai border

Malaysia is considering extending its ongoing RM50 billion ($14.2 billion) rail project closer to its border with Thailand as it seeks to reduce economic competition with its Southeast Asian neighbour.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke said the government is “open” to connecting Malaysia’s East Coast Railway Link (ECRL) to Thailand’s existing or planned rail infrastructure. Thailand plans to build two ports to bypass Malaysia’s most lucrative shipping route.

“The relationship between Malaysia and Thailand is not a zero-sum game,” Loke told Malaysia’s parliament on March 27. He added that both countries face “political economic” challenges that can be tackled together, and one area of cooperation is cross-border connectivity.

The ECRL rail project, which will connect Malaysia’s west and east coasts, is expected to be completed by 2027. Under the current alignment, its last stop is Kota Bharu, about 40 km from the Thai border.

Thailand’s planned US$29 billion ($39 billion) Chumphon-Ranong Land Bridge project will see the country build two new ports at both of its coasts — providing a new trade route that potentially bypasses the Malacca Strait, one of the world’s busiest and home to three major Malaysian ports.

Loke said the land bridge’s impact is expected to be limited to Penang, Malaysia’s northernmost major port. The country’s two biggest ports, Klang and Johor, are set to be unscathed.

“This project might take 15 years to implement — if it is started,” he said. — Bloomberg 

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