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Offshore rigs for fish farms being developed by Keppel

SINGAPORE — Could supplying rigs for fish farming feature in Keppel Offshore and Marine’s future?

Offshore rigs for fish farms being developed by Keppel

A model of Keppel Offshore and Marine's offshore aquamarine hub seen at a new exhibition at the URA Centre. Photo: Wong Pei Ting/TODAY

SINGAPORE — Could supplying rigs for fish farming feature in Keppel Offshore and Marine’s future?

The rig designer and builder has, in the past year, adapted the structures typically used for the drilling of oil for modern fish farming.

It showcased a prototype of its aquaculture model for the first time yesterday at an Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) exhibition.

Developed from October last year in a bid to diversify the group’s offshore technologies, the prototype consists of a semi-submersible — a raised platform above sea level connected to a floating ring pontoon by columns — attached to six hexagonal fish cages.

The cages, which are submerged underwater to minimise sea surface obstruction, can be controlled remotely and raised above sea level to harvest fish or for maintenance or repair.

The platform above water can house hatcheries to supply healthy fish fry, as well as an operations centre to manage a gamut of activities from feeding, cage cleaning and inspection, to tracking the health, diet and growth of the fish.

There could also be a processing plant to fillet, package and chill the fish.

Launching the URA’s Urban Lab exhibition yesterday, Senior Minister of State for National Development and Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon told reporters Keppel’s offshore aquaculture hub is an innovative concept with the potential to “take away the constraints of coastal farming” and “move (fish farming) out into the open sea where you can actually go deeper”.

“Production value can increase as well,” added Dr Koh. The bulk of Singapore’s 125 fish farms are coastal farms; only seven are land-based.

The Norwegians are already converting traditional deep-sea rig platforms — proven to be able to withstand huge waves — for deep-sea salmon farming, said Dr Koh, who recently visited the country on a study trip.

“I think it is good that Singapore companies like Keppel are looking at some of these areas as well, and who knows ... I hope they can work with some of our local farmers to make it a reality for Singapore as well.”

Keppel declined to share more details as the idea is at the preliminary stage.

TODAY understands the offshore aquaculture hub can be customised to support production of anywhere from 200 tonnes of fish to more than 3,000 tonnes. A system the size of a hectare could harvest 1,000 tonnes of fish a year.

Existing offshore fish rigs in Norway are supporting an annual production of about 8,000 tonnes.

Singapore’s fish farms produced 4,851 tonnes of fish last year, or about 10 per cent of total fish consumption.

Fish farmers said such rigs hold the potential to dramatically scale up production but wondered about the costs.

Mr Frank Tan, founder and chief operating officer of Marine Life Aquaculture, said the idea is “very futuristic” and in line with industry needs.

Production levels in his industry “are escalating quite fast” with the adoption of larger sea cages, robotic net washers and fish vaccines, he said.

Mr Tan has contemplated using old tankers stationed offshore to grow annual production from the current 400 tonnes of threadfin, to 5,000 tonnes in four years.

Fish rigs could turn Singapore into a fish exporter, he added.

The enclosures on his farm are 3.5m-deep, and Mr Tan said rearing fish in deeper waters will yield “better quality fish” due to better hydrodynamics.

Cages that extend downwards will also allow more fish to be farmed without occupying a larger surface space.

Mr Timothy Ng, operating manager of 2 Jays farm, which supplies about 10 tonnes of sea bass, snapper and grouper a year, said the model should help farmers produce fish at a cost comparable with current methods.

A system which requires “a lot of investment” by farmers is not sustainable, as smaller farms here are already facing operating costs that are 30 to 40 per cent higher than Malaysia’s, he added.

Fish farmers have been hit by harmful algal blooms in recent years but government efforts are afoot to boost productivity of local farms.

The exhibition, called “Growing More with Less”, will run at the URA Centre atrium until Oct 31.

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