Kuala Lumpur – The first "Eyes in the Sky" plane took off on Sept 13 from an air base near Kuala Lumpur to watch over the Malacca Strait. The flight of the Royal Malaysian Air Force C-130 Hercules marked the first of regular joint patrols mounted by Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Malaysian Defence Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who first mooted the idea, said the launch "proves that we don't just talk but we implement what we plan".
Singapore Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean described the programme as timely. "It is an excellent scheme that is practical and serves the need for security in theStrait of Malacca."
Mr Najib said: "I would consider this as phase one. Phase two will entail the involvement of the international community and we are hoping there will be offers…to participate in this Eyes in the Sky programme."
While the scheme is seen as a boost for improving security in the piracy-prone Malacca Strait, a former Indonesian ambassador suggested that the three littoral states needed to embark on "further efforts for sustainable and effective cooperation".
In an article published in The Jakarta Post, Mr Nugroho Wisnumurti called for, among other things, the establishment of a permanent joint mechanism comprising naval officers from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The officers should be based in one of the littoral states that has the best access to the strait.
"This mechanism would serve as a centre for monitoring and reporting, the exchange of information and the sharing of intelligence, and for a quick-response command," said Mr Wisnumurti, who is currently a senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta.
He also suggested that coordinated patrols by navies and other enforcement agencies be allowed to engage in "hot pursuit" into the territorial waters of another littoral state.
There is also a need to draw up "rules of engagement" and other procedures necessary for effective law enforcement operations.
The writer also said the piracy problem should be tackled at its source - such as the villages and other areas from which the pirates launch their action and their hiding places.
Mr Wisnumurti also called for the setting up of "a system of burden-sharing", whereby user states would offer financial aid and other forms of assistance such as providing the necessary equipment, exchanging information and sharing intelligence.
The writer noted that given the Malacca Strait's strategic value, the region's major powers such as the United States, China, India and Japan, were watching developments in the region closely.
"It is essential that in addressing the security threats in the strait, the littoral states should avoid being dragged into the power games of outside powers," Mr Wisnumurti said.
* More countries urged to join 'Eyes in the Sky' patrols (The Straits Times, Sept 14)
*'Eyes in the Sky' launched (New Straits Times, Sept 14)
* Security in the Strait: The threats and challenges (The Jakarta Post, Sept 13)