Jakarta – Less than three months after Malaysia suggested that the Malacca Strait be given "eyes in the sky", four Asean countries will begin joint air patrols over the piracy-prone sealane this week. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand will contribute two small aircraft each for the operation.
Each aircraft will have one military officer from each of the four countries. The planes will be allowed to fly above the waters of the four nations no less than three nautical miles from land.
"We need eyes from the air to inform the officials to fight piracy and other maritime crimes. There is no day without the patrol," Colonel Suryo Wiranto, Assistant of Operational Affairs at the Indonesian Navy's Western Fleet Command, at the end of a two-day conference on the Strait of Malacca on Sept 8.
Col Wiranto said foreign countries were welcome to offer assistance to the "Eyes in the Sky" operation so long as they did not breach the principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
"We will give foreign governments the opportunity to assist us in logistical matters, such as providing aircraft or surveillance systems. But only these four countries will carry out the mission," he added.
The conference, which was attended by representatives from 34 countries and observers from intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, was organised jointly by Indonesia and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
The Jakarta Statement, issued at the end of the meeting, said the participants agreed to pursue a regular dialogue and exchange of information on the safety, security and environmental protection of the Strait.
The three littoral states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore said they would enhance the capacity of the navies and police patrolling the strait through maritime exercises and training programmes.
The meeting also saw the signing of an MoU between Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the IMO on the development of a regional Marine Electronic Highway (MEH).
The electronic highway, to be based on the Indonesian island of Batam, calls for all vessels travelling on the shipping lane to install equipment on board that will enable them to alert the authorities about pirate attacks or other security threats.
At a press briefing after the conference, IMO secretary-general Efthimios Mitropoulos said: "Pirates and robbers have been operating there (Malacca Strait) for ages. What we mean to do is to have a system in place so that terrorists would think twice before attacking ships."
Some 50,000 ships carry about one-third of the world’s trade through the narrow Malacca Strait each year. At 960km long and 1.2km wide at its narrowest point, the waterway is prone to pirate attacks.
The three littoral states launched coordinated sea patrols last year, but piracy and robbery have remained rampant.
* 'Eyes in the sky' patrols over strait to start next week (The Straits Times, Sept 9)
* 'Eyes in the Sky' patrol over Malacca to start soon (The Jakarta Post, Sept 9)