Keynote Address by DPM Professor S Jayakumar, at the Opening Session of the Singapore Meeting on the Straits of Malacca and Singapore: Enhancing Safety, Security and Environmental Protection on 4 September at Swissotel – the Stamford, Singapore

Mr Efthimios Mitropoulos, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organisation

Mr Raymond Lim, Minister for Transport of Singapore

Mr Jusman Syafii Djamal, Minister for Transportation of Indonesia

Dato' Haji Zakaria bin Haji Bahari, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Transport of Malaysia

Your Excellencies

Ladies and Gentlemen


I am very pleased to join you here at the Opening Session of the Singapore Meeting on the Straits of Malacca and Singapore: Enhancing Safety, Security and Environmental Protection. This Meeting is the culmination of years of close collaboration between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, the three Littoral States of these Straits. It is a concrete outcome from the IMO Secretary-General Mr Mitropoulos' visionary "Protection of Vital Shipping Lanes" initiative.

2 Significantly, this Meeting will formally launch a Cooperative Mechanism between the Littoral States and User States on safety of navigation and environmental protection. The Cooperative Mechanism is a landmark development in charting a new framework for international cooperation in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. It respects the sovereignty of the Littoral States, takes into account the legitimate interests of the international community, and is also in accordance with international law.

Law of the Sea

3 The sea holds great importance for many nations, especially so for a small island state like Singapore. This was the reason why Singapore, including myself, participated actively when the UN convened its third Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1973. We are proud that a Singaporean, Ambassador Tommy Koh, served as the President of the Conference in its final year, and I am happy to see friends who participated in the Conference like Dr. Hasjim Djalal and the IMO Secretary-General himself.

4 The evolution of the Law of the Sea has a very long history, going as far back as the Papal Bull Inter Caetera in 1493, the Hague Codification Conference in 1930, to the first and second UN Conferences on the Law of the Sea from 1956 - 1960. The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or "UNCLOS" for short, is a tour de force in terms of the codification and progressive development of international law. Having to deal with all the issues relating to the oceans and Law of the Sea, a number of very contentious and conflicting issues could only be resolved through trade-offs and accepting the Convention as a "package". That meant that every individual provision of the text was agreed upon within the context of the whole. This intricate balance is in many ways the very basis for the universality of UNCLOS.

5 A key bargain struck in the Convention was Part III concerning straits used for international navigation. By allowing Coastal States to expand their territorial sea from three to 12 nautical miles, Part III and its new regime for transit passage in straits were necessary to maintain jus communicationis - the right of the international community to enjoy free and uninterrupted passage through the world's critical sea lanes.

6 Like the rest of the Convention, Part III strikes a balance between the interests of States bordering straits, with the right of ships and aircraft to enjoy unimpeded passage even if the straits fall within the territorial sea of the Littoral States. Although considered new and innovative when it was adopted, antecedents to this concept of transit passage in fact go as far back as the attempts made by the Institut de Droit International and the International Law Association between 1894 and 1906, as far as the principles laid down in the International Court of Justice's famous Corfu Channel case in 1949.

7 Given the various responsibilities of the States bordering a strait used for international navigation, Article 43 of UNCLOS was actually originally a British proposal which sought to foster cooperation in the establishment, maintenance and improvement of navigational and safety aids, as well as the prevention, reduction and control of pollution. According to a Commentary on this Article, this was in fact proposed with the Straits of Malacca and Singapore in mind. The concept of User States is not defined in the Convention, but it is widely understood to include all who benefit, directly and indirectly, from navigation through the Straits.

Importance of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore

8 The importance of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore as a geographical, geo-economic and geo-political chokepoint continues even today. Asia's much celebrated economic growth is due largely to global commerce and international trade, riding on the freedom and safety of its key shipping lanes, including these Straits. The fortunes of the two most populous and fastest growing economic powerhouses in Asia -India and China - are intricately tied to and linked by these critical Straits.

9 Asia's turbo-charged economies have also fuelled growing energy demands. Already, an estimated 11 million barrels of oil from the Middle East are transported to East Asia daily through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. Despite the perennial search for alternative routes, the reliance on the Straits will only increase as the world's energy demand, powered by Asia, continues to grow as projected.

10 According to a study by the Royal Australian Navy, as many as 20 million barrels of oil could pass through the Straits by 2020. This means that not only the energy consuming countries in Asia, but also the energy supplying countries in the Middle East and elsewhere have a legitimate interest in the safety and security of these Straits. These Straits have at once become both one of the most important, and one of the most vulnerable international maritime transit routes.

11 Given the volume of traffic, the length and geographical characteristics of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, it is a constant challenge to the three Littoral States to ensure navigational safety, environmental protection and maritime security. The narrowest point of the Straits has a width of merely 1.5 nautical miles. That is compounded by the increasing variety and size of ships that use the Straits nowadays. Commercial ships are growing bigger and travelling faster, plying the same waters as smaller ships. Congestion and accidents in the Straits can cause major delays, with significant negative repercussions to the whole supply chain and the coastal and marine environment of the three Littoral States.

12 Apart from adopting the latest technological measures to improve navigation in the Straits, the Littoral States are also taking the necessary measures to implement and comply with the relevant international standards to control both ship and land-based sources of pollution in a coordinated manner.

13 The threat does not come from navigational risks alone. These Straits have traditionally had a high incidence of armed robberies at sea. The situation worsened palpably after the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, and continued to deteriorate in the following years. This led the London insurance market's Joint War Committee to include the Straits on a list containing 21 "war-risk areas" worldwide.

14 The situation has thankfully improved today. The Malacca Straits Patrols of the three Littoral States, which include both sea patrols and the "Eyes in the Sky" maritime air patrols, have resulted in a significant improvement in the security situation. The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery, or ReCAAP, and its Information Sharing Centre in Singapore, have also served to promote multilateral anti-piracy cooperation among regional authorities. The success of all these collaborative efforts has resulted in the removal of the Straits from the list of "war-risk areas" last year. Nevertheless, we should not be complacent and we will remain committed to ensure that this vital sea lane remains open and safe for international shipping at all times.

Framework for International Cooperation

15 I am therefore heartened to see the broad range of representation at this Meeting, which will, for the first time, put Article 43 of UNCLOS into practical effect through the establishment of the Cooperative Mechanism. Given the strategic importance of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, it is fitting that these Straits will provide the first tangible implementation of this Article and thereby chart a new framework for international cooperation.

16 While Article 43 of UNCLOS forms the legal basis for the Cooperative Mechanism, it is also underpinned by the triangular framework for international cooperation we first enunciated at the start of this series of IMO Meetings on the Straits of Malacca and Singapore which was held in Jakarta in September 2005.

17 The first pillar of this framework is strengthening cooperation between Littoral States, especially amongst the relevant operational agencies. For example, the maritime agencies of the three countries have enjoyed a long and successful history of cooperation since the 1970s, through the Tripartite Technical Experts Group, or "TTEG" for short. The TTEG is responsible for many of the measures that have enhanced the safety of navigation in the Straits today, including the Traffic Separation Scheme and the STRAITREP ship reporting system. The TTEG will remain the key building block in the proposed Cooperative Mechanism.

18 The second pillar of the framework is engaging User States in dialogue and capacity building. Again, this is not completely new. Even before the inception of the TTEG, Japan has made regular and significant contributions through the Malacca Straits Council, which is supported by the Japanese Government and the Japanese maritime community. They have contributed generously over the past 35 years, having expended nearly US$130 million on improving navigational safety in the Straits. They also helped to set up the Revolving Fund in 1981 to deal with oil pollution in the Straits. However, we now have a much broader range of stakeholders with different interests, concerns, expertise and capabilities.

19 The Cooperative Mechanism is therefore necessary to provide a transparent, open and inclusive platform for dialogue with all interested stakeholders. Through its Cooperation Forum, Littoral Sates could spell out their needs and interests. On their part, User States and other stakeholders can consider areas where they can lend support, provide capacity building and functional cooperation through the projects, or contribute monetarily to the Aids to Navigation Fund, all on a voluntary basis. The key is to build on the areas of convergences on which we can develop mutually beneficial outcomes.

20 Finally, the third pillar in the framework is recognising the role of the IMO and other relevant international bodies in forging international consensus and deepening cooperation in the Straits. Since its inception in Geneva in 1948, the IMO's main task has been to develop and maintain a universal and comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping. Given its specialised expertise, IMO has a special place in this framework for international cooperation. In particular, its universal membership equips it with the ability to reach the widest possible constituency and facilitate cooperation and coordination at many levels. The IMO's Protection of Vital Shipping Lanes initiative, under which this series of Meetings on the Straits of Malacca and Singapore has been convened, has also provided the crucial impetus for the establishment of the Cooperative Mechanism.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

21 In conclusion, I can say that we have made great strides over the years in charting out this new framework for international cooperation in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. However, it is worth pointing out that the Cooperative Mechanism, when established, is but an initial step. Much work remains to be done even after its formal launch. For a successful journey, a ship needs a strong engine, favourable weather conditions, sufficient fuel and a dedicated and well-trained crew. The three Littoral States believe that we have put in place a well-built vessel, robust yet flexible, through this Cooperative Mechanism. I hope to get the support of all of you on this journey which is so critical to all of us. Thank you.

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