Historic lighthouse guards modern Singapore

Standing off the southern tip of Singapore is a white granite lighthouse built more than 150 years ago to guide ships entering a sleepy tropical outpost of the British empire.

Singapore has since grown into one of the world's busiest ports but the Raffles Lighthouse remains a vital maritime landmark in an age when massive ocean-going ships depend heavily upon sophisticated navigation systems.

"Electronics can fail but the lighthouse will always be there," said chief hydrographer Parry Oei from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

"Visual aids like lighthouses, beacons and buoys are still relevant in warning ships as they sail near to the shore or shallow areas," he told AFP.

Named after colonial Singapore's founder Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the 29-metre (96-foot) high lighthouse was built in 1855 on a 1.3-hectare (3.2-acre) island named Pulau Satumu, which means "one-tree island" in Malay.

It warns ships of dangers such as sandbars and reefs and signals the presence of slow-moving large crude oil carriers by a raised cone in the day and a special white light at night.

Singapore handled 28.4 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of container traffic and more than 503 million tonnes of cargo in 2010, making it one of the world's top ports.

But it had a humble beginning in colonial times.

In 1836, merchants and mariners wrote a petition to the British authorities calling for the erection of lighthouses in the Singapore Strait.

Pulau Satumu was recommended because of its conspicuous position, but the lighthouse's foundation was only erected on May 24, 1854, Queen Victoria's birthday, and it started operating on December 1, 1855.

Originally powered by a wick burner and manned by seven lightkeepers, the lighthouse now uses solar power to run energy-efficient quartz halogen lamps in its rotating beacon.

Two lightkeepers operate the facility, which is closed to the public. Only staff and coral reef researchers are given regular access to the island, but the MPA recently organised a tour for the media.

"We maintain the lighthouse, take care of vessels and communicate with the Port Operations Control Centre," said Narayanasamy Manikaveloo, a lightkeeper who has worked at Raffles Lighthouse for a year.

"It is like our own home," added the 48-year-old, who stays in self-contained living quarters below the lighthouse for 10-day stretches.

At night, ships within 20 nautical miles of Raffles Lighthouse see three white flashes every 20 seconds from the beacon.

Lighthouses are distinguished by their shape, colour and height in the day, and the colour of the light and flash character at night, complying with an international set of guidelines.

Although the operation of Raffles Lighthouse has been automated since 1988 and fully monitored from the mainland, lightkeepers are still needed to man the tower at all times due to its vital role as a navigational aid in the busy strait.

Gaharudin Abd Gani, who has been a lightkeeper for 23 years, used to sit on a bench outside the lighthouse in the 1970s, watching out for possible danger at sea using binoculars day and night.

After dark, the island is exceptionally quiet.

"At night it is very scary, and we watch over one another," said Manikaveloo.

The relatively light workload, low-cost lifestyle and comfortable pace of life are among the perks of the job, the lightkeepers say.

In their free time, they watch football on Indonesian and Singaporean television channels, read books, fish and grow plants in a garden.

"Working here is very calm and relaxing. Working in Singapore is very rushed," Gaharudin said over dinner as the sun set on the horizon.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea