Eyes in the sky (Eis) is an integrated plan to enhance security in the Straits of Malacca launched by military personnel from the littoral states of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand on 13 Sept 2005.
It has since become a symbol of ASEAN peace and security cooperation carried out in the spirit of ASEAN sovereignty and international law. Maritime patrol aircraft are the crucial military hardware deployed in this initiative directed by an EiS Operations Centre established in each of the participating countries. The target is for patrols twice weekly.
On 16 Dec 2005, ASEAN announced in KL that it needed more foreign funds from United States, China, Japanand other countries to contribute hardware and management expertise to curb piracy but not troops or armed forces. The US, Chinaand Japanhave the greatest stakes in ensuring a secure Straits of Malacca, particularly Japan and China, the bulk of whose oil passes through the shipping lanes of the Straits. More aircraft and radar are needed to locate the pirates and their often small but lethally fast speedboats.
Of the three countries, Indonesiahas not even begun conducting air patrols under the EiS project as it is short of funds from the government. Advanced surveillance technologies are also in shortfall in addition to the technological know-how to use them.
Every year, about 50,000 ships, carrying half the world's oil and a third of the global trade, passes the Straits and subject themselves to pirate attacks (37 pirate attacks last year alone). Now the fear is that terrorists with small boats loaded with explosives may add on to the risks of navigating the shipping lanes in the Straits. The greatest challenge is to get the funding for the littoral states, especially for Indonesia, whose economy has been hurt by the 1997 Asian financial crisis and now faces a tough challenge of rebuilding their country. The USdecision to lift sanctions on sales of military weapons to Indonesiahas helped in this aspect. Japanhas in the past donated boats not fixed with armaments to Indonesiahas part of its aid to the country.
* Foreign aid needed to secure Malacca Strait, KL and Jakarta say (The Straits Times, Dec 16)