Singapore - To boost safety in the Malacca Strait, both the three littoral states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and user states, especially Japan, China and South Korea, need to step up their cooperation. In a commentary published in The Straits Times, writer Bobby Thomas suggests a three-pronged approach to ensure the safety of navigation in the busy waterway.
First, there is a need for the three littoral states to beef up their internal security arrangements, said Mr Thomas, a research assistant with Singapore's Institute ofDefence and Strategic Studies.
He noted that historically, the three countries' respective marine police, coast guard and navy, had worked in "silo-like environments", with little coordination or intelligence and information-sharing. He suggested that it is time for the creation of a central database to collate information and intelligence from these agencies.
Mr Thomas also called for the strengthening of various multilateral measures that have already started, such as the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Anti-Piracy (ReCAAP). This is a Japanese initiative bringing together the 10 Asean nations, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
A key element of the ReCAAP is its Information Sharing Centre (ISC) - to be located in Singapore- which will facilitate communication and information exchange among member countries. It is also expected to improve the quality of data on incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the region.
However, the ReCAAP suffers from one major problem: It has yet to be endorsed by at least 10 members - the minimum needed before the centre can be set up. So far, only Japan, Laos, Cambodia and Singapore have acceded to the ISC initiative.
Those with a stake in the safety of the Malacca Strait must also address the issue of technical cooperation - an important yet much-neglected issue. For example, the aids to navigation within Indonesian waters are reportedly unreliable. They are said to be either missing, unlit or out of position.
Indonesia, the writer said, should seek help from the Malacca Strait Council, which already funds almost three-fifths of the costs incurred in putting aids to navigation in the waterway.
Indonesia could also tap on the expertise of other organisations like the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse, a non-profit organisation which has been trying to harmonise aids to navigation worldwide.
Mr Thomas believes that if this three-pronged approach could be firmly institutionalised, "not only would information-sharing be easier but negotiating the various issues among so many states would also be more effective and efficient".
However, he conceded that for the three-pronged approach to materialise, "lots of goodwill and political leadership will be needed all around".
* Take three-pronged approach to safety in Malacca Strait (The Straits Times, Nov 5)