Malaysia asks ICJ to rule on waters around Pedra Branca; Singapore says will oppose application

Malaysia applied for an interpretation of the Court's 2008 judgment which had awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore on June 30, 2017.
Malaysia applied for an interpretation of the Court's 2008 judgment which had awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore on June 30, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Malaysia has filed an application before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to declare that the waters surrounding Pedra Branca remain within its territorial waters - a move Singapore said was puzzling, without merit, and one it will oppose.

On Friday (June 30), Malaysia applied for an interpretation of the Court's 2008 judgment which had awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore.

In its bid, Malaysia also asked the court to declare that a nearby feature, South Ledge, is located in Malaysia's territorial waters and therefore belongs to it.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement on Saturday (July 1): "In our view, the ICJ Judgment is clear and unambiguous. Malaysia's request for the ICJ to interpret the Judgment is puzzling. Singapore will therefore oppose Malaysia's application for interpretation, which we consider to be both unnecessary and without merit."

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The challenge comes months after Malaysia filed a separate application to revise the same 2008 ruling in February, citing newly-discovered facts.

Both countries had taken the territorial dispute over Pedra Branca and two nearby maritime features, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, to the court. All three features in the Singapore Strait are located about 40km east of Singapore's main island.

 
 

In its 2008 judgment, the ICJ also awarded sovereignty over Middle Rocks to Malaysia.

But it did not make a definitive ruling on the third feature, South Ledge, saying it belongs to the state in whose territorial waters it is located.

"The ICJ also noted that it had not been mandated to draw the line of delimitation with respect to the territorial waters of Malaysia and Singapore in the area," MFA said.

In its bid, Malaysia claims that both sides have been unable to agree on the meaning and/or scope of two points of the 2008 Judgment: the court's finding that "sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh belongs to Singapore", and its finding that "sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the State in the territorial waters of which it is located".

Malaysia also argues this "ongoing uncertainty" as to the sovereignty of the disputed areas, "continues to complicate the task of ensuring orderly and peaceful relations", the ICJ said in a press release on the application.

In asking the court to declare that South Ledge and the waters surrounding Pedra Branca remain within its territorial waters, Malaysia noted the pressing need to achieve a viable solution to the dispute, considering the "high volume of aerial and maritime traffic in the area".

The ICJ noted that both countries have attempted to implement the 2008 judgement, and established a Malaysia-Singapore Joint Technical Committee (MSJTC) to that end, which was tasked with delimiting the maritime boundaries between the territorial waters of both countries.

It said Malaysia had asserted that the MSJTC reached an impasse in November 2013 - saying one reason was because both countries were "unable to agree over the meaning of the 2008 Judgment as it concerns South Ledge and the waters surrounding Pedra Branca".

However, MFA noted that the ICJ's Judgement was final and without appeal.

"Singapore and Malaysia had agreed to honour and abide by the Judgment and had established the MSJTC," it said.

The ministry noted that Malaysia's fresh application "is additional to, and separate from" its February application to revise the 2008 judgment. Singapore filed its written observations in response to Malaysia's revision application with the ICJ in May.

While a revision application seeks to revise or alter a judgment based on purported newly-discovered facts, an interpretation application, on the other hand, seeks to clarify a judgment, the ministry said.

"Singapore will file its written observations on the interpretation application in due course," it added.

"Just as we are confident of our case on the revision application, we are also confident that we are on strong grounds to oppose this latest application by Malaysia for interpretation. Singapore is committed to resolving these issues in accordance with international law."