Another non-combat death in ship “incident”
Written by Our Correspondent
Another full-time national serviceman had died in the course of duty yesterday, three days after he was warded in the intensive care unit.
Lance Corporal Mar Teng Fong, 20, an engineering systems specialist, was on watch duty on Tuesday on the Republic of Singapore Navy’s RSS Persistence.
He was found unconscious on Wednesday morning, trapped between a hydraulic sliding door and the door frame of the ship which was out at sea for training at the time.
He had gone on a routine round to check the engineering systems at 11.40pm. When he did not return after 15 minutes, a fellow ser-viceman went in search of him.
According to the state media, LCP Mar was given immediate medical attention by a doctor on the ship, and was evacuated by helicopter to Singapore General Hospital at 1.15am.
The exact cause of his death was not revealed. LCP Mar’s case is the latest of a series of non-combat death to have hit MINDEF this year.
In July this year, a 21 year old National Serviceman, Second Lieutenant Nicholas Chan Wei Kit died yesterday after a jeep which he was inspecting rolled over and hit him, pinning him under its wheels.
There was at least a gap of about 30 minutes between the time he took over the vehicle and the time a recovery vehicle – located within the grounds of the camp – was dispatched.
In June, an army sergeant, aged 30, was found dead in his bunk in Taiwan.
A month before that, a 53-year-old parachute jump instructor at the Commando Training Institute died in South Africa when his parachute failed to open during a freefall exercise.
The others, which included a recruit and three warrant officers, all died in Singapore in separate incidents.
The circumstances surrounding their deaths were never released to the public. Like the cases before him, LCP Mar’s death will remain forever a mystery.
All Singapore males have to served mandatory National Service for two years followed by more than 10 years of reservist service each year.
The duration of two years is long compared to other countries who maintain a conscription policy such as Taiwan (12 months), Ukraine (12 months) and Germany (9 months).
MINDEF has never revealed the exact figures for non-combat deaths and injuries to Singaporeans. In the case of the latter, it is not known if the victims are adequately compensated by MINDEF.
The case of Corporal Jeremy Tan showed that MINDEF is not always forthcoming in offering compensation to NSFs who suffered injuries during their National Service.
In 2005, Corporal Tan, who was rostered as duty storeman at the Seletar East Camp, was found unconscious at the foot of the building where his bunk was located on the third level.
His head injuries were consistent with a fall from height, but findings by SAF investigators as to how he came to be hurt were inconclusive. Mindef classified his injuries as non-service related and stopped paying for his hospital treatment from March 2007.
Corporal Tan’s parents have to sue MINDEF in High Court in order to seek disability compensation and medical benefits from them.
The Minister of Defence Rear-Admiral Teo Chee Hean is also the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore and a former Chief of the Navy.
There is no political pressure on the ground or opposition in parliament to exert pressure on the government to be more transparent about the figures of non-combat deaths in the armed forces.
No senior MINDEF officers are ever taken to task for the unnecessary deaths of these young men in the prime of their lives.
The “internal” investigations conducted by MINDEF are almost always classified state secrets.
Such sensitive cases are rarely reported in the mainstream media which remains tightly controlled by the ruling party.
Without a free media and an opposition to fight for their interests, Singapore parents must pray that their sons are in safe hands during their two years in National Service.