Singapore, Malaysia committee on maritime boundaries delimitation held first meeting

Part of the Johor Baru port as seen from Tuas on Dec 5, 2018. A committee set up to resolve the maritime boundaries delimitation issue met for the first time on May 13. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore and Malaysia had "constructive discussions" on the delimitation of their maritime boundaries, following a dispute that flared up last year.

A committee set up to resolve the issue met for the first time here on Monday (May 13), a spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said on Wednesday.

The dispute over the maritime boundaries was sparked late last year when Malaysia unilaterally extended the Johor Baru Port limits off Tanjung Piai, which overlap with Singapore's port limits off Tuas.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the MFA spokesman said: "The two delegations had constructive discussions on maritime boundary delimitation which provided a good basis for further negotiations. The next meeting will be held in Malaysia."

The Malaysian High Commission in Singapore had disclosed in a Facebook post on Tuesday that the first meeting of the committee on maritime boundary delimitation was "successfully" held.

This committee was set up after a meeting in March between the foreign ministers of the two countries. It is co-chaired by Singapore MFA permanent secretary Chee Wee Kiong and his Malaysian counterpart Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob.

In Parliament last week (May 8), Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in response to a question that the committee would meet soon.

The dispute hit the headlines when Malaysia issued a gazette notification on Oct 25 last year that unilaterally extended the Johor Baru Port limits. It also issued a Nov 11 port circular and a Nov 22 notice to mariners on these changes.

In response, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore issued a circular on Nov 30 instructing ship masters and owners of vessels to disregard Malaysia's notices, "which impinge on Singapore's sovereignty".

On Dec 6, Singapore extended its port limits off Tuas, within its territorial waters.

In March, Singapore and Malaysia agreed to de-escalate tensions by jointly suspending their overlapping port claims and reverting to their ports' former limits.

Both sides also agreed not to authorise and to suspend all commercial activities in the area, as well as not to anchor any government vessels there.

The dispute over maritime boundaries was one of several issues that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad addressed at their Leaders' Retreat in April. Other issues included airspace, water and connectivity.

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