Kuala Lumpur - The three littoral nations of the Malacca Strait - sensitive to international concerns that they appear incapable of safeguarding the piracy-prone waterway - have reached an agreement to beef up security in the area. Under the "eyes in the sky" pact, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia plan to start air patrols over the strait by next month.
The air patrols will transmit information gathered from radar and sensors, tracking vessels normally used by pirates, to command and control centres in the three countries.
The agreement to set up air patrols was made during a meeting of the armed forces’ chiefs from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailandin the Malaysian capital on Aug 2.
Malaysian Defence Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who first mooted the eyes-in-the-sky concept, said the littoral states are willing to consider offers of aircraft from the United States and China so long as the patrols do not infringe the sovereignty or territorial rights of the three nations.
"Any country can offer its maritime patrol aircraft but radar and sensors onboard would have to be operated by the armed forces personnel of littoral states.
"We will start with our maritime aircraft but this is not enough as we need more resources to provide 100 per cent protection to ships in the straits," Mr Najib said after meeting the armed forces' chiefs.
Indonesia's military commander General Endriartono Sutarto said: "We want to show the international community that we are serious about securing theMalaccaStrait."
The United States, Japan, and recently China, have offered assistance to safeguard the strait. However, Malaysia and Indonesia have opposed foreign military involvement, citing concerns over sovereignty.
In a separate meeting on the Indonesian island of Batam on Aug 1 and 2, the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore reached an agreement on a set of broad principles relating to the security of the Malacca and Singapore straits.
Among other things, the three countries - which have not always seen eye-to-eye on the issue - reaffirmed their sovereign rights over their territories. But they also acknowledged the interest and possible contributions of other states that use the straits as well as that of the relevant international maritime agencies.
Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo described the Batam talks as a "landmark meeting".
"For the first time, the three countries have come to consider in a serious way the problems of maritime security in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. We struck a good balance between staking the rights of the sovereign states and our responsibilities to the international community,” Mr Yeo said.
* Smoother sailing likely in moves to boost strait security (The Straits Times, Aug 4)
* 'Eye in sky' for straits (New Straits Times, Aug 3)
* 'Eyes in the sky' get an aye (The Straits Times, Aug 3)