SINGAPORE: Singapore leaders on Thursday (Aug 15) expressed their condolences following the death of shipping magnate Frank Tsao.

The founder of IMC Group and founding chair of Suntec City Development died “peacefully with family members around him” on Monday, according to a statement on IMC Group’s website. He was 94 years old.

Born in Shanghai, Mr Tsao received the Honorary Citizen Award from the Singapore Government in 2008.

In a letter addressed to Mr Tsao’s son Frederick Tsao, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed his sadness over the passing and highlighted the late Mr Tsao’s ties to Singapore.

“Frank was a longstanding and good friend of Singapore,” wrote Mr Lee in his letter. “A respected leader in the shipping industry, Frank regularly advised the Government on our maritime industry policies.”

“He was a firm believer in Singapore’s potential.”

Mr Tsao’s relocation of IMC Group’s operational headquarters from Hong Kong to Singapore in 1991 gave the country a boost “at a time when we were planning to invest in the expansion of our port capacity”, said the prime minister.

He also played a big part in developing capability and attracting talent to the industry, through his support of the establishment of the Centre for Maritime Studies at the National University of Singapore, as well as his help in establishing  the permanent secretariat of the Asian Shipowners Forum in Singapore, said Mr Lee.

“Through these efforts, he boosted our plans to grow Singapore into a leading international maritime centre.”

As the founding chair of Suntec City Development, Mr Tsao led the consortium of Hong Kong companies that built Suntec City.

This was a “major investment” and a “strong statement of their confidence in Singapore”, said Mr Lee, citing Singapore’s hosting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference at Suntec City in 1996 as a particular highlight.

Beyond shipping and real estate, Mr Tsao also “contributed greatly” to Singapore society though the work of the Tsao Foundation, said Mr Lee.

He highlighted the foundation’s work in providing care and support for many elderly people in Singapore and its partnership with the Government on active ageing initiatives.

“Frank has made many contributions to our community over the years,” said Mr Lee. “For his contributions, Frank was conferred our Honorary Citizenship in 2008.”

“We considered him one of us.”

In a Facebook post, Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan also expressed sadness at the death of Mr Tsao.

Calling Mr Tsao a “great friend” of Singapore Shipping and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, Mr Khaw spoke of his support for the industry.

“He was always generous with his advice on how to grow Maritime Singapore, linking us to important business networks, pointing out emerging opportunities and suggesting how we could turn them to benefit Singapore,” said Mr Khaw. “He was optimistic about Singapore’s future and invested significantly.”

Mr Khaw also spoke of Mr Tsao’s role in supporting Singapore’s hosting of the 1996 WTO Ministerial Conference at Suntec City.

“He (Mr Tsao) was mindful that a successful WTO MC would make a significant contribution to global free trade,” said Mr Khaw. “We also wanted to impress the 170+ foreign leaders/delegations with Singapore’s style of efficiency, service excellence, multi-racial heritage and a great garden city.”

“He took a personal interest, going many extra miles to work with us, to upgrade the Suntec facilities beyond what was specified in our contract,” he added.

“He was not just a business partner, he was a great friend of Singapore!”

Mr Tsao’s wake will be held from Thursday afternoon at 33 Swiss Club Road, according to IMC Group’s statement.

The cortege will leave on Sunday at 1.30pm for Mandai Crematorium.