Dispute over Johor Port limits due to grey area

If it means that the disagreement over the border is an avenue for renewed contention, it is worth to involve the court, says expert

By SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH

Singapore and Malaysia will need to resolve the grey area of poorly defined territory between the two countries in the Tebrau Strait to prevent future disputes, said economist Prof Dr Rajah Rasiah.

He said the current dispute over the limits of the Johor Port boundary arises because there is “undefined” territory between the two countries, and that a defining agreement on territorial water limit must be reached.

“When it comes to the border, it has to be redefined and determined whether some areas should be further from the national limit, while taking into consideration of the development of port facilities.

“Also, the topography and geography of this area keeps on changing over time, which could be the root of why the grey area is not fully clarified.

“The agreement over the territory has to make sense for both countries,” he said.

On the possibility of a prolonged territorial dispute, Rajah said it is worth to involve legal actions that are ruled by the international party.

“Just like the Pedra Branca (Pulau Batu Putih) dispute, which in my opinion was not properly defended by Malaysia, this may involve some legal actions.

“If it means that the disagreement over the border is an avenue for renewed contention, it is worth to involve the court.”

An industry source familiar with the matter said Malaysia’s alteration to the Johor Port limits is within its claimed maritime territory, but one that is not recognised by the government of Singapore.

“The area where we extended our port limits was, for a long time, regarded as a grey area as there is a discrepancy over the actual territorial boundary limit between Malaysia and Singapore.

“It was untouched territory for so long and when Malaysia decided to gazette the area as part of Malaysian waters on Oct 25, 2018, it ruffled some feathers,” the source said.

“Normally a country can claim up to 12 miles (19.31km) of sea limit from its coastline, a line that is drawn at the height of low water within the territory. But sometimes for countries who are close together, they do not have the luxury and that is where the problem lies.

He added that Malaysia and Singapore have to form a bilateral dialogue on the territorial sea limit to curb disagreements on the matter which has led to past disagreements.

“If not, it could end up in a maritime dispute that has to be referred to the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, like the Pulau Batu Putih,” he said.

On Dec 4, Singapore’s Ministry of Transport (MoT) said Malaysia’s extension of the Johor Baru port limits has encroached into Singapore Territorial Waters (STW) off Tuas.

In a statement, it added that vessels from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and Marine Department Malaysia have repeatedly intruded into STW off Tuas and Singaporean authorities will not hesitate to take firm action against the intrusions and unauthorised activities.

On Nov 30, Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority said the alteration of the port limits for Johor’s usage has not been recognised by the republic