Oil has long since replaced spices as the world’s most sought commodity likely to send nations to war. In Magellan’s time Singapore was a deserted, swampy island infested with mosquitoes and bugs. The economic powerhouse then was Malacca, about 100 miles up the strait.
A few centuries later, Singapore had become the hub of business and maritime activity. This was an opportunity to top up the coffers because a company I had worked for in Australia was hiring. Smit Lloyd was a Dutch company specialising in oil rig tenders servicing rigs in the region. They needed a mate so within a few days I was heading back the way we had come from while Robin minded Jabiru in Ong’s marina in the Johore Strait.
The Norwegian skipper, Lars, had ways of dealing with Oriental bureaucracy that topped my paltry graft in Bali. Our first rig was working in Indonesian waters and had a resident immigration official on board. Lars explained that this individual could waste a couple of days on paperwork, checking stores and searching for contraband, but Lars had found the answer. He sat the official down in the mess room in front of the television and while we got on with our work the official watched pornographic movies.
Singapore’s only natural resource is its location at the crossroads of maritime traffic between Europe and the Orient. Singapore harbour is always crowded with all manner of ships but canny businessmen and politicians have developed service industries making it one of the most prosperous little countries in the region. It has a large expat population, a fair proportion of it based in Ong’s Marina, and we soon found ourselves drawn into a multinational social circle. Somehow the weeks turned into months and the months into nearly a year. Magellan was put on the back burner for a while.