Tit-for-tat as Malaysia denies Singapore’s territorial sea claims

Malaysia also wants to send a protest note to Singapore over the latter’s ILS operation despite Malaysia’s opposition

By ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN & AFIQ AZIZ / Pic By TMR File

THE Malaysia-Singapore confrontation heats up as both nations claimed sovereign rights infringements and breaches of international laws less than four weeks after both its leaders spoke about the strong ties between the two nations.

In what is seen as a tit-for-tat response to Malaysia’s intention to reclaim its airspace, the republic’s Transport Ministry had voiced “with grave concern” that Malaysia’s extension of the Johor Baru port limits had encroached into Singapore territorial waters (STW) off Tuas.

The republic also warned it would enforce its territorial rights including for its navy and coast guard to patrol the area against any infringements of Malaysian vessels. Singapore claimed that vessels from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) and Marine Department Malaysia had repeatedly intruded into STW off Tuas.

Malaysia had announced its intention to reclaim its airspace from Singapore in phases between 2019 and 2023, after allowing the republic to use the delegated airspace in southern Johor since 1974.

Malaysia also intends to send a protest note to Singapore over the latter’s decision to operate its instrument landing system (ILS) for the Seletar Airport near the Johor border despite Malaysia’s opposition.

Putrajaya yesterday dismissed Singapore’s territorial water encroachment claims, and stated that it was within Malaysia’s rights to draw the limits. Malaysia had also accused its neighbour of carrying out extensive land reclamation of the area.

Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (picture) maintained that the expansion of the Johor Baru port limits was within Malaysia’s boundaries.

Dr Mahathir said Malaysia can “measure” the country’s territorial boundaries to review Singapore’s claims that the expansion of the southern state’s port limits had encroached into STW.

“We can measure…whether their (Singapore) claims are true or not. We have not touched their borders. We are still within our waters,” Dr Mahathir told reporters on the sidelines of the 21st Delegation Conference of Pos Malaysia Uniformed Staff in Shah Alam yesterday.

Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority had also issued a Port Marine Circular on Nov 30, 2018, instructing ship masters and owners of vessels to disregard Malaysia’s Gazette Notification, PC 88/2018 and NtM 164/2018, which impinge on Singapore’s sovereignty.

The statement noted that Malaysia’s claim to extend the Johor Baru port limits and the repeated intrusions by Malaysian government vessels into STW are a serious violation of Singapore’s sovereignty and international law.

“Malaysia finds Singapore’s claims to be inaccurate as the altered port limits for Johor Baru port have not in any way encroached into any part of Singapore.

Malaysia has always had and will continue to have sovereignty over the waters within the port limits of Johor Baru port,” Transport Minister Anthony Loke said.

Loke also said Malaysia reserves the right to carry any activities at the stipulated area, including placing enforcement agencies to oversee the zones.

“It is also within Malaysia’s right as a sovereign state to deploy its enforcement and relevant competent agencies in its territorial sea. This practice is fully consistent with international law and, as such, the MMEA and the Marine Department Malaysia have not intruded into any part of Singapore,” he added.

Putrajaya also urged Singapore to withdraw its Port Marine Circular issued on Nov 30, 2018.

Loke said the republic’s enforcement agencies should stop intruding into Malaysia’s territorial sea, including harassing vessels and persons lawfully permitted by the law.

“It is precisely these actions by Singapore that amount to serious violations of Malaysia’s sovereignty and international law, and are unconducive to good bilateral relations.

“It would cause confusion for the international shipping community and lead to increased navigational and safety risks to all parties,” Loke said.

But he said Malaysia is ready to engage with Singapore to resolve the matter. According to the minister, Malaysia has also taken prudent actions to accurately promulgate the alteration, via the Federal Government Gazette and to issue the necessary Port Circular and Notice to Mariners.

Malaysia and Singapore have a long history of diplomatic skirmishes, especially during Dr Mahathir’s first stint as the PM. Putrajaya had also voiced its desire to renegotiate the raw water price sold to the republic.