Langkawi – The Malacca Strait has an image problem, with many quarters having an unfair perception of the security situation in the busy sealane, said Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak. He said that while there is a possibility that terrorist groups would target ships in the strait in order to disrupt international trade, this has yet to happen.
The only security problems so far are the occasional pirate attacks and theft at ports, Mr Najib, who is also the Defence Minister, said in a keynote address at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace's (Lima) maritime conference. The meeting drew 186 participants including military personnel, maritime players and academics.
He noted that since 9/11, there has been renewed interest in the security of the Malacca Strait. "This can perhaps be attributed to the perception that terrorists might use the surrounding areas as a haven to disrupt international trade or even just to gain financial support through ransom of hijacked ships."
"Although piracy or armed robbery at sea does not pose a significant threat to the state, there is the possibility that pirate activities might become instruments of terrorists. Malaysia and the other littoral states acknowledge these concerns," Mr Najib said in his speech.
He said the security situation in the strait is akin to that in any major city. "The threat of crime will continue to exist, but we can remove the opportunities that foster and promote the threat."
Mr Najib said Malaysia also wants a review of the Strait of Malacca's classification as a war-risk and terrorist zone. Since no terrorist attack has ever occurred in the strait, it is unjustifiable to impose a war-risk surcharge on ships plying the route, he added.
Urging the London-based Joint War Committee of Underwriters to review its classification of the strait, Mr Najib said the organisation should have sought more feedback before categorising the strait as a war-risk zone. "We urge the underwriters to refrain from imposing additional premiums on vessels transiting the strait," he said.
* 'Straits security a global issue' (New Straits Times, Dec 5)
* Malaysia seeks strait status review (The Star, Dec 5)