KUALA LUMPUR - The first Malaysian navy ship berthed at the country's newest maritime base off Johor on Thursday, 10 days after the Sultan of Johor opened the base on the Middle Rocks outcrop.
"Our vessel - KD Perdana - is the first Royal Malaysian Navy ship to berth at the Abu Bakar maritime base in Middle Rocks," Malaysia's navy chief Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin told The Straits Times yesterday.
"Although it is not being permanently positioned there, it will still frequent the base and carry out patrols in the area with other vessels to ensure maritime security," he said when contacted by phone.
Tan Sri Ahmad Kamarulzaman sent his congratulations to the crew of the KD Perdana in a tweet on Thursday.
The rocky outcrop was awarded to Malaysia in 2008 by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which handed nearby Pedra Branca to Singapore at the same time.
The Malaysian base, built after five years at a cost of RM61.5 million (S$19.5 million), is located a kilometre away from Pedra Branca, and 14km off Johor's east coast.
The base has a 316m-long jetty, a helipad and a lighthouse, and is manned by 17 personnel. It is named after Abu Bakar, the first sultan in the Johor ruling family that goes back to the 19th century.
When opening the maritime base Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar said on his official Facebook page that the facility was "aimed at safeguarding Malaysia's sovereign territory and waters, and for conducting marine scientific research".
Malaysia's coast guard, the base's main operator, said that since 2015, it has detained 11 Vietnamese fishing boats and their 144 crew, and estimate there were hundreds of other vessels encroaching into Malaysian waters in that area.
"We hope the new Abu Bakar Maritime Base at Middle Rocks will help us monitor and act against illegal activities in Johor waters," Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency southern region director Adon Shalan was reported as saying recently in The Star newspaper.
KD Perdana is a 47m-long fast-attack craft that can carry a crew of up to 30 men, according to the Malaysian Navy website. The vessel was commissioned 45 years ago in Cherbourg, France.
Pedra Branca was in the news in recent months after Malaysia on June 30 filed an application before the ICJ to declare that the waters surrounding the island remain within its territorial waters - a move Singapore said was puzzling, without merit, and one it will oppose.
The challenge comes months after Malaysia filed a separate application to revise the same 2008 ruling in February, citing newly discovered facts. Singapore filed its written observations in response to the revision application with the ICJ in May.