Home » Breaking News, Ports/Terminals » Malaysia, Singapore agree to suspend overlapping port claims

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (left) and Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah

Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to jointly put on hold their overlapping port claims as they seek to resolve their maritime dispute that has resulted in at least one collision in waters off Tuas since their friction began.

In a joint press statement March 14, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah and his Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan agreed to the mutual suspension in the implementation of their countries’ overlapping port limits. They also agreed to apply the port limits that were in effect prior to October 25, 2018 for Malaysia and December 6, 2018 for Singapore.

Malaysia had on October 25 gazetted an extension to the Johor Baru port limits beyond territorial claims made in its 1979 map, and anchored government vessels in the area.

On December 6, Singapore extended its port limits to the extent of its territorial waters in response.

The agreement was reached in a meeting between the two foreign ministers in Putrajaya, Malaysia. The meeting was a follow-up from their previous meeting in Singapore on January 8, 2019 where both ministers outlined their commitment to resolve the maritime issues surrounding the port limits of their countries.

During the March 14 meeting, the ministers discussed the working group’s report on maritime issues surrounding the overlapping Johor Bahru Port Limits off Tanjung Piai in Malaysia and Singapore Port Limits off Tuas.

The two Southeast Asian neighbors also agreed to undertake four other measures with effect from March 14, 2019.

They agreed to not authorize and to suspend all commercial activities in the area, and to not anchor government vessels in the area.

Another agreement is “for Malaysia and Singapore vessels to operate in the area in accordance with international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The relevant agencies on both sides will work out practical modalities to avoid untoward incidents in the area.”

Lastly, it was also agreed to establish a committee for boundary delimitation which will ensure the first four recommendations are implemented within one month, and that negotiations for maritime boundary delimitation in the area will commence within one month following such implementation.

If the committee is unable to reach an amicable solution on delimitation, “Malaysia and Singapore may mutually agree to resort to an appropriate international third-party dispute settlement procedure on terms to be mutually agreed by the parties,” said the statement.

Both foreign ministers agreed that these measures were vital to de-escalate the situation on the ground, and pave the way for maritime boundary delimitation of the area.

“These measures also demonstrate the commitment of both countries to work together to preserve a strong and positive bilateral relationship on the basis of equality and mutual respect, and to resolve bilateral issues amicably in accordance with international law,” they said.

Balakrishnan told Singapore media the agreement is “a very important first step” to resolve the issue.

“[Malaysia’s] ships would leave, the port limits will revert to the situation before October 25, and we will continue to patrol those areas in accordance with our laws and in accordance with UNCLOS. So there will be lowered risk of incidents,” he said, as quoted by local media. “And then we can sit down, we can commence the process of negotiations for delimitation.”

Photo: Vivian Balakrishnan/Facebook

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