Malaysia launches project for ship-to-ship transfers in Strait of Johor, says not encroaching into Singapore waters

A view of the Johor Baru port, as seen from Tuas on Dec 5, 2018. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia is developing a US$150 million to US$180 million (S$204 million to S$244 million) project off Johor's Port of Tanjung Pelepas to enable ships to transfer their cargo to other vessels without having to dock at the piers, in a move that officials say will allow higher shipping flexibility and cut costs for shippers.

The 1,200-ha facility, an area more than three times the size of Sentosa island, will be built in the Strait of Johor facing Tuas.

The project, in the Johor Baru port waters, is billed as the "world's biggest" ship-to-ship (STS) transfer facility. It will be able to accommodate up to 30 vessels at one time.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad witnessed the project's signing ceremony on Tuesday (April 2) in Putrajaya, involving Malaysian maritime services company KA Petra and Hong Kong-based port operator Hutchison Ports.

KA Petra on its website says ship-to-ship transfer involves "cargo transfer operations between 2 seagoing vessels, either while stationary or underway."

The new hub will have man-made "dolphin" mooring structures to berth vessels without the need for piers or docks, and at lower costs for shippers.

Hutchison Ports, which will take a 30 per cent stake in the project, is among the biggest port operators in the world and owns a stake in Port Klang.

Tun Mahathir, asked at a news conference later, said the project won't encroach into Singapore waters.

He also took a swipe at the Johor crown prince, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, who had posted on his Facebook claims by a non-governmental organisation that Johoreans did not know about the project, and that the federal government keeping the Johor state government in the dark.

"This project has been discussed over a long time. There were problems we had when Singapore said we are encroaching. We are not encroaching. We are in our waters and I think this is public knowledge," he told a news conference after the signing ceremony.

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"So if people don't know, well I don't have to go around telling people one by one, do you know or not, do you know or not," he said.

"Singapore knows about this, they had contested (and) we had showed them that this is in Malaysian waters, not in Singapore waters," he added.

The question about possible encroachment into Singapore waters was asked as Singapore and Malaysia are involved in a maritime dispute in the Strait of Johor, sparked by Malaysia's decision to extend the Johor Baru port limits last Oct 25.

On Dec 6 last year, Singapore also extended its port limits to the full extent of its territorial waters.

The tense stand-off saw a promised turnaround in March, when both countries agreed to jointly suspend their overlapping port claims as a step to begin talks to delimit the maritime boundary in the area.

But Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Monday (April 1) that two Malaysian government vessels remain anchored in Singapore territorial waters off Tuas, a fortnight after Singapore and Putrajaya jointly agreed to suspend the overlapping port claims.

Correction note: The article has been edited for accuracy.

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