Maritime dispute: Singapore, KL likely to make joint announcements soon

Acting Transport Minister and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan assured the House that Singapore's "security agencies will continue to be vigilant and safeguard the sovereignty and security of our territorial waters".
Acting Transport Minister and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan assured the House that Singapore's "security agencies will continue to be vigilant and safeguard the sovereignty and security of our territorial waters". PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore and Malaysia hope to make several joint announcements over the next week or two regarding their ongoing mari-time border dispute, Acting Transport Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Foreign Minister, said in Parliament that the two neighbours have made "reasonable progress" in their discussions on the dispute, and possible announcements could come from him and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah.

Both countries have been engaged in "intensive discussions" to de-escalate the situation on the ground.

Dr Balakrishnan was responding to Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC), who raised concerns about Malaysia's unilateral extension of the Johor Baru port limits in October last year, which has encroached into Singapore's territorial waters.

Noting that there has not been a resolution of the matter, Mr Ang also asked whether the dispute will affect the Tuas megaport that is to be fully developed by the 2040s.

Dr Balakrishnan said during the debate on the Transport Ministry's budget: "Development works are proceeding as planned, and there will be no impact to access for ships calling at the terminal in the future."

He assured the House that Singapore's "security agencies will continue to be vigilant and safeguard the sovereignty and security of our territorial waters".

Asked if the ongoing maritime dispute would affect the viability of Singapore's future Tuas Terminal, he categorically said "no".

The new Johor Baru port limits go beyond what Malaysia has been claiming as its own waters in a 1979 map, which Singapore has consistently rejected. "The inescapable conclusion is that the new Johor Baru port limits transgress into what are indisputably Singapore territorial waters," he said.

 
 
 

Dr Balakrishnan is standing in for Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is recovering from surgery on a fractured left arm.

Since Kuala Lumpur altered the Johor Baru port boundaries, Malaysian vessels have been intruding into Singapore's territorial waters. In response, Singapore extended its own port limits off Tuas in December.

Meanwhile, a joint working group has been formed to study the legal and operational issues concerning the maritime claims.

"Our approach to engaging Malaysia remains unchanged," said Dr Balakrishnan. "We have upheld international law and we respected the sanctity of international agreements. At the same time, we have been reasonable, we have been constructive, in trying to resolve issues in a win-win manner," he added.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min said that the reclamation works are progressing well, with the terminal's first phase of operations on track to start in 2021.

"Not only will Tuas Terminal be able to handle high container volumes and bigger vessels, but it will also be a smarter port - with a higher degree of automation to improve efficiency, safety and service levels," said Dr Lam.

The Tuas Terminal will be developed in four phases over a span of 30 years.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2019, with the headline 'Maritime dispute: S'pore, KL likely to make joint announcements soon'. Print Edition | Subscribe