Launching of the Centre for Straits of Malacca
YB Datuk Ong Tee Kiat
Minister of Transport Malaysia
YBhg. Vice Admiral (Rtd) Dato’ Seri Ahmad Ramli Bin Hj. Mohd Nor
Maritime Institute of Malaysia
H.E Mr. Jo Espinoza Ferrey
Head of Policy and Planning
Office of the Secretary General
International Maritime Organisation
Tan Sri-Tan Sri, Dato’ – Dato’
Captains of Industry
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
Assalamualaikum, Salam Sejahtera and a Very Good Morning
1. It gives me great pleasure to be here this morning. My sincere thanks to the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA) for giving me the honour to launch its “Centre for Straits of Malacca”. I am pleased with MIMA’s timely establishment of the “Centre for Straits of Malacca”, which I understand, will focus on research pertaining to matters affecting the Straits, and, address developments as well as emerging issues of concern among the littoral States and users of the Straits.
2. In the recent past, many forums had been convened to discuss a myriad of issues vis-a-vis the Straits of Malacca. I have had the opportunity to address the issue on several occasions and had always advocated the position that the management of the Straits of Malacca should be viewed within the context of building a comprehensive security environment.
3. As you are well aware, the Straits of Malacca is viewed differently by different stakeholders. To the users, it is an economic lifeline, while to the coastal communities, it is a source of economic activity and livelihood. As to the world’s maritime powers, it is a strategic sea lane of communication connecting the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. In view of the contrasting and sometimes conflicting perceptions among the different stakeholders, it is thus not surprising that different priorities are accorded to the Straits.
4. As for Malaysia, the comprehensive and functional management of the Straits of Malacca, which we take very seriously, should take into account the different perceptions as well as priorities of littoral and user States comprehensively. To ensure that the Straits of Malacca shall always be safe and secure with its marine environment protected and preserved, it is contingent upon three factors. Firstly, ensuring safety of navigation is paramount; Secondly, cooperation between the littoral states is inevitable to secure the waterway; and Thirdly the marine environment must be protected. Towards this end, Malaysia together with the other littoral states have taken concrete measures to ensure that the Straits of Malacca continues to be safe and secure for navigation while its marine environment remains protected.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
5. Malaysia has over the years, spent more than two hundred million ringgit to install, maintain and upgrade various aids to navigation in the Straits. For a small country with limited resources, this is a significant amount, but it is a price that we are willing to pay to ensure and enhance safety of navigation in the Straits of Malacca. Given the long-term financial implications there is a limit to what Malaysia can afford for this purpose.
6. In this context, I believe, the key to building a comprehensive security environment in the Straits of Malacca is cooperation. Over the last few years we have seen significant and unprecedented progress made in fostering cooperation between the littoral States and the users of the Straits. The parties have succeeded in moving forward from a very minimal cooperation to the establishment of a “Co-operative Mechanism” comprising dialogue process, a fund dedicated to maintaining aids to navigation in the Straits and six projects aimed at enhancing safety of navigation. In this regard, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has played a pivotal role in facilitating this much needed cooperation.
7. The cooperation between the littoral States and the IMO has put in place a number of systems such as the Traffic Separation Scheme, which now spans almost the entire length of the Straits and the STRAITREP mandatory ship reporting system. In addition, our own Vessel Traffic Monitoring System enables vessels to navigate the Straits safely. With these systems in place, the Straits of Malacca is well equipped with the latest information technology for safety of navigation as well as precision navigation and emergency response.
8. I understand other systems being planned include the proposed Marine Electronic Highway, which will lead to the integration of current maritime safety technologies with marine environment management and protection systems. Seamless integration is necessary without prejudicing sovereignty of nations. I hope the coastal States can benefit from the use of the Marine Electronic Highway to protect and enhance preservation of the marine environment of the Straits.
9. It is therefore my sincere hope that the “Cooperative Mechanism” will facilitate efforts by Malaysia and the other littoral States to enhance safety of navigation in the Straits. I was informed that China, South Korea, Japan and the United Arab Emirates have pledged contributions to the Aids to Navigation Fund, a key element in the “Cooperative Mechanism”. While I thank these countries, I would also like to take this opportunity to encourage other users of the Straits to contribute to this Fund so that we can develop a truly equitable system. Besides financial assistance, support in the form of capacity-building like training and technology transfer would also be welcomed.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
10. The “Co-operative mechanism” indeed complements the effective cooperation already in place between Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore in two major initiatives namely, the Malacca Straits Patrol and Eye-in-the-Sky air surveillance program. There is also substantial intelligence sharing. I understand that Thailand has recently indicated its readiness to participate in all these initiatives. Such sea, air and land based initiatives by the coastal and littoral states augur well for the security of the Straits of Malacca.
11. These efforts have contributed in enhancing the confidence level of maritime powers with regards to the capability of the littoral States. Statistic from the reports of International Maritime Bureau has shown a significant drop in security related incidences from a peak of 75 cases in 2000 to only 4 cases in 2007. And for the first half of 2008, there is not a single reported case.
12. I would also like to emphasise that as a result of cooperation between the littoral States there is in place a programme on economic capacity building in the Straits for the coastal community under the comprehensive security development programme.
13. Malaysia firmly believes that the measures currently in place have succeeded in minimizing the security threats in the Straits. Malaysia also believes that the littoral States are more than able to perform the task. More importantly, due recognition should be given to the fact that the comprehensive measures have already yielded results that objectively counter any negative perception regarding security in the Straits of Malacca.
14. Despite these positive developments and improvements for navigational safety and protection of the marine environment, Malaysia believes there is an ultimate “tipping point” for maritime traffic in the Straits beyond which further increases will become not only risky but also too dangerous and costly. At such point, the cost to ensure safety of navigation will also increase exponentially. In other words, the capacity of the Straits to assimilate increasing vessel traffic is finite. The vessel traffic in the Straits has increased by almost forty percent from 43,965 in 1999 to 70,718 in 2007. It is projected that by 2015 the number may increase to 120,000. A daunting prospect, indeed, for the littoral States and users of the Straits in terms of safety of navigation. Therefore, Malaysia believes that shipping carrying capacity in the Straits of Malacca would have to be jointly determined and not exceeded.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
15. Malaysia’s perspective and aspirations for the Straits of Malacca has and will always be in accordance with the principles of international law. Malaysia ratified the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention or UNCLOS in 1996, and is very much aware of the rules for international navigation. While, vessels can pass through the Straits of Malacca, but, they will have to abide by the rules and regulations established by the coastal States relating to navigational safety, environmental protection and fisheries. Vessels passing through the Straits of Malacca must also refrain from activities which can be construed as prejudicing or challenging the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the coastal States.
16. As the Straits of Malacca is bordered by Indonesia and Malaysia, their collective jurisdiction encompasses a substantial part of the Straits. It is important to appreciate that in view of the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the coastal states, the sea which constitutes the Straits of Malacca is not international waters. The extent of Malaysia’s maritime jurisdiction in the Straits of Malacca is regulated by long-standing boundary treaties and national legislations.
17. It is therefore necessary for me to reiterate that Malaysia regards its sovereignty in the Straits as sacrosanct and this includes the right to exercise full and exclusive sovereignty over our territorial waters. Malaysia also has a Continental Shelf and an Exclusive Economic Zone in the Straits and reserves all rights therein provided by the Convention, including sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing resources therein. Therefore, Malaysia’s position on any outside involvement or interference in security or law enforcement in the Straits is clear i.e. we do not condone such actions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
18. Although much has been said about the Straits, further discussion and research still needs to be undertaken to address various issues confronting the Straits. For example, more often than not, the littoral States are reacting to issues identified and pressures exerted by external parties rather than driving the agenda in the Straits of Malacca. We need to be more proactive and anticipatory in how we manage the Straits and address the issues that affect it.
19. It is therefore timely that we are here today to launch MIMA’s Centre for Straits of Malacca that would serve as a centre of excellence and provide a focal point for multidisciplinary studies involving institutions and researchers from the littoral States as well as user States. Fundamentally, the Centre must adopt a forward looking research posture as the safety and well being of the Straits lies in its future not in its past.
20. Much of the research on the Straits is fragmented and the information collected widely dispersed among the many institutions in the littoral States as well as outside. A centre that serves as a repository of information on the Straits should therefore be welcomed and it is my sincere hope that the Centre for the Straits of Malacca would fulfill this role.
21. For the Centre to be impactful, its research has to be current and relevant and its recommendations timely and practicable. The key to the Centre’s and MIMA’s success will be its contribution to policy and decision making related to issues of the Straits. Addressing these issues will have long term ramifications on the future of the Straits and would require inputs from many parties.
22. In this context, the Centre has to take a holistic view of the issues and provide leadership in research and developments. The Centre will also serve as a catalyst to provide valuable policy inputs as well as a platform for discussion and exchange of ideas to address such issues. These are certainly daunting tasks and in order to attain credibility we need to set lofty goals and work towards it. The setting up of the Centre should thus be viewed within a long term perspective of its contributions in attaining Malaysia’s aim of ensuring its continuous safety and security.
23. I reckoned that the Centre will not be able to achieve this by itself. It has to network with like-minded institutions, government agencies and non-governmental organisations in pursuing its objectives. To do so, the Centre must be prepared to work together with others for the common benefit of the parties concerned.
24. It is my understanding that the Centre has already initiated research on issues such as the shipping carrying capacity and risk analysis of the Straits and this is a good start towards achieving its role.
25. I am pleased to acknowledge the presence of many representatives from the international community, government agencies, private sector, academia and NGOs. Your presence here is a reflection of your commitment to support the Centre’s endeavours.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
26. Today’s occasion is set against interesting developments and daunting challenges in the Straits of Malacca. On the one hand we are seeing unprecedented level of cooperation between the littoral States and the users of the Straits. Pledges of funds, materials, technology and technical assistance have been forthcoming and this augurs well for the well-being of the Straits and the coastal communities. On the other hand, there are still issues which could affect the Straits and the cooperation that we have embarked on particularly, funding and the ever-growing number of vessels plying the Straits. Equally important, we also need to address the impact of activities on the marine environment to ensure that the future of the coastal communities is not compromised.
27. On that note, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to, now, officially launch the “Centre for Straits of Malacca”.