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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'