Representatives from 31 countries participated in a three-day meeting organised by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) on September 18 to discuss ways to improve security of the Malacca Strait, the world’s busiest waterway responsible for an estimated 30 per cent of world trade and 50 per cent of the world's oil supplies.
The IMO meeting came after a September 12 gathering of maritime experts in the region which generated critical views that security in the Strait remains inadequate.
Officials appear to heed the call as the Associated Press (September 18) revealed the intent of the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore to formally seek assistance from other countries to safeguard the Strait, especially those that use it as a frequent trade route. Malaysian Defence Minister Najib Razak said during the IMO meeting that the three countries will soon formally list specific measures in which nations whose vessels use the strait can contribute toward its security.
Thus far, Japan has provided a training vessel to the Maritime Agency in Malaysia while the United States, China and South Korea are also considering ways to help.Malaysia has also started using the recently launched US$6.86 million “Marine Electronic Highway” project, a navigational facility that will automatically identify any ship entering the straits and improve navigation.
The IMO meeting also generated an initiative to prepare a framework of cooperation focusing on security, navigational safety and environmental protection. Brigadier-General (NS) Choi Shing Kwok, the Singapore Transport Ministry's Permanent Secretary, said the cooperative framework envisions the setting up of a fund to maintain navigational aids in the strait.
The three countries currently bear the maintenance cost of RM100mil a year, and in spite of the talks on providing assistance, the meeting did not discuss financial contributions or a fee for using the strait. Monetary contributions from user states pose a sensitive issue as they rouse fears of foreign interference and violations of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Ironically, just a day before the IMO meeting, Malaysian border police fired warning shots at the fishing boat called KM Super Jaya for allegedly trespassing the neighbouring country in the Malacca Strait, leaving two of its crew members seriously injured. The incident prompted the Indonesian Foreign Ministry to issue a diplomatic note to complain the excessive use of force in the incident.
On September 19, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry claimed that KM Super Jaya was actually still in the Indonesian territorial waters. Ad interim Director General forEast Asia and the Pacific Bali Maniaga said that the fishermen who left Belawan Port in North Sumatra routinely were fishing in the area.
The current diplomatic incident remains to be resolved, while Indonesia is still reeling from recent accusations from Australian and Papua New Guinean governments about trespassing Indonesian fishermen. Just last month, Papua New Guinea offered an apology to Jakarta for the shooting of Indonesian nationals for allegedly trespassing the neighbouring country, leaving one person dead and two others injured.
Countries seek to broaden cooperation to safeguard Malacca Strait (The Straits Times/AP, 18 September 2006)
Straits users start to chip in for waterway safety (The Straits Times, 19 September 2006)
'Share cost of keeping Malacca Strait safe' (The Star, 19 September 2006)
Malaysia Will Study Diplomatic Note On Shooting Incident (Bernama, 19 September 2006)
Foreign Ministry: KM Super Jaya not trespasses Malaysian Waters (Antara, 19 September 2006)