What’s in a name? That which we call RSS Singapura

Feb 23, 2017 08.21PM |

by Wan Ting Koh

SO THE Republic of Singapore Navy’s (RSN’s) naval facility will soon be named after a ship. More precisely, it will go by the name of a ship – the Republic of Singapore Ship (RSS) Singapura – which will come before its original name, Changi Naval Base. Instead of Changi Naval Base, you’ll have to say this mouthful: RSS Singapura – Changi Naval Base.

But for all the grandiosity of a name change – an initiative meant to commemorate the RSN’s 50th anniversary – netizens and forum writers have split into three camps: with those who support the new name due to the naval base’s history, those who don’t, and those who think it’s a waste of time.

The RSS Singapura is one of the RSN’s first vessels and was one of the three ships the Singapore Naval Volunteer Force (SNVF) started with. The other two were the RSS Panglima and the RSS Bedok. The SNVF was the predecessor of the RSN and was formed from the Singapore division of the Royal Malaysian Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1966, months after Singapore’s separation from Malaysia.

The RSS Singapura, a 1,890-ton ship, was assigned to the SNVF as a training vessel after the split. It was not always a training vessel though. The RSS Singapura was a former Japanese-owned minelayer known as Wakataka. It was turned over to the British Royal Navy as a prize of war in 1947 and it was eventually assigned to the SNVF.

The ship was berthed at Telok Ayer Basin and the SNVF used it as its headquarters from 1966 to 1968. At one point, it almost became a floating night club and restaurant, according to a 1967 report.

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As for the 86 hectares naval base, its groundbreaking ceremony was officiated by then Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence Mr Teo Chee Hean in January 1998. During his speech, Mr Teo said that the location of the base at the eastern end of Singapore would enhance the protection of Singapore’s waters, together with the Tuas Naval Base at the western end. Changi Naval Base was officially opened in 2004 and is located a 15-minute drive away from the Changi Airport.

An ST article quoted a former naval volunteer reserve officer expressing his approval of the name change. Mr Adrian Villanueva, 77, a business consultant who got married on the RSS Singapura, said that the new name was “excellent for a naval base”. “The RSS Singapura was used as a headquarters and for training, and for functions to host dignitaries and naval officers,” he added.

However, not all were keen on the new name, which would take effect from May 15.

In a Feb 18 forum letter, Dr Sunny Koh flagged two problems – the confusing focus of the new name and its lack of practicality.

He wrote that the new name might shift attention from the base itself to the ship, creating a clash between the two words, “Singapura” and “Changi”. He added: “If so, this will force a contest between two historically powerful words, and not everyone will agree that the ship triumphs over the base.”

He said that the name will be shortened to either “RSS Singapura” or “Changi Naval Base” by people who refer to it in everyday situations. Not to mention that the abbreviation RSSSCNB would be “unwieldy”.

Dr Koh also questioned how the ship is related to the naval base. The RSS Singapura was berthed at Telok Ayer Basin and used by the SNVF as its headquarters from 1966 to 1968, he said, but the naval base was only officially opened in 2004.

However, Mr Villanueva disagreed with him. In a forum letter published on Feb 22, he wrote that the new name is in line with naval tradition where bases are named after ships. He raised several examples: The barracks at the Royal Navy Base in Sembawang were named after HMS Terror in 1945; the Royal Malaysian Navy Base in Woodlands was known as KD Malaya; and the RSN’s training school in Changi was named RSS Panglima in 2006.

He said: “Dr Sunny Goh seems to lack knowledge of historical naval tradition in naming ships and naval establishments.”

Mr Villanueva said that the RSS Singapura had a connection to the naval base too. According to him, after RSS Singapura was scrapped in 1968, the SNVF relocated to Pulau Blakang Mati (now known as Sentosa), where the RSN was established. RSN eventually moved to Changi Naval Base.

Said Mr Villanueva: “The name RSS Singapura should be contained in the naval base’s name, in line with naval tradition and as befitting our guardians of the seas.”

Online, the announced name change resulted in three main types of reactions: those who agreed with Mr Villaneuva, those who thought a naval base ought not to be named after a ship, and those who felt the change was much ado about nothing.

Supporters of the name change, like netizen Marc Toh, said that the naming of naval shore installations after ships is a “long established Royal Navy tradition”. 


Another netizen, Victor Huang, said that the name would remind people of “RSN’s history and proud tradition”.


Others, like netizen Brenden Allan, pointed out that naval bases and ships are two different things.


Then, there were others who felt that the name change is pointless. Netizen Teow Loo Shuin said as much.


Others said it is more than pointless – it is also a waste of money.

A Hardware Zone forum user, who went by the name of fortunecat, said that money would be required to implement the new name, considering the changes needed for signboards and documents.

screenshot of forum post

Even if the name change is making the news, at least RSS Singapura isn’t creating the waves that swept over another name which made headlines last week. (Hint: It was an exhibition about the Japanese Occupation.)


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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