Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Enhancing Maritime Security in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Enhancing Maritime Security in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore

Article excerpt

The Straits of Malacca and Singapore are the main seaway connecting the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea and together are the shortest route for tankers trading between the Middle East and Far East Asian countries. Consequently, traffic transiting the region is considerably heavy, reported to be approximately 60,000 vessels a year. In addition, there are a considerable number of local vessels engaged in trade across the straits; numerous fishing vessels can be encountered in most areas.

The narrowest point of this shipping lane is 1.2 miles wide, located near Batu Berhanti, in the Singapore Strait; it creates a natural bottleneck, with the potential for collisions and/or groundings that could result in pollution of the marine environment. (1) While it is by no means clear that the straits could be closed, if for some reason they were closed, nearly half the world's fleet would be required to sail more than 500 miles farther, prolonging voyage times and generating a substantial increase in the requirement for vessel capacity. In fact, some sources have claimed that all excess capacity might be absorbed, which would have the strongest impact on crude-oil shipments and dry-bulk cargoes such as coal. Closure of the straits could be expected to immediately raise freight rates worldwide. (2)

The increasing number of violent and well-coordinated attacks on transiting ships in the straits is a serious problem in and of itself (3) and has suggested that the attacks might be dry runs for a more serious terror attack on shipping. (4) Conversely, some terrorism experts have expressed the view that there is no link between these attacks and terrorist elements, and that there is no evidence that the attackers and terrorists are working together in the straits to launch a terror attack against shipping. Nevertheless, the straits are vulnerable to such acts. (5)

Other threats to shipping in the straits include sea piracy in international waters; armed robbery against ships in national and international waters; smuggling of drugs, migrants, arms and commercial goods; transportation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related materials by sea; and environmental pollution. Ships and their crews transiting the Straits of Malacca and Singapore face the constant threat of unauthorized boardings; theft of personal property, cargo and the ships themselves; and violence against and kidnapping or murder of seafarers.

The difficulty of protecting shipping from these threats in the straits results from the simple fact that criminals and law enforcement officials are not bound by the same rules. Criminals do not respect maritime borders or national sovereignty, while law enforcement and military officials respect both these limits, particularly in light of strong regional concerns over infringement on littoral states' sovereignty. Hence, there is a real need to level the playing field by facilitating international cooperation and enhancing regional capacity to suppress illicit activity at sea.

This paper reviews steps that have been taken, and that are envisioned, to enhance maritime security in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. Of particular note are recent calls by senior officials from Malaysia and Indonesia for international cooperation and assistance to that end. (6) Of particular concern is the fact that the details of this cooperation and assistance have not been identified. They should be.

PROFILE: THE STRAITS OF MALACCA AND SINGAPORE

Geographic Location and Characteristics (7)

The Straits of Malacca and Singapore extend for approximately 520 nautical miles (see Figure 1) and together comprise the longest strait used for international navigation. The Straits of Malacca is located between the east coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. The Singapore Straits is located south of both the island of Singapore and the southeastern tip of peninsular Malaysia, and north of the Indonesian Rian Islands. …

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