SINGAPORE - The Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) Information Fusion Centre (IFC), which allows maritime security information to be shared across countries, launched its upgraded portal on Tuesday (May 14) as it marks its 10th anniversary this year.
Emphasising the importance of information sharing across countries, Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman said this continues to be relevant, and more critical than before.
He said: "There are many 'unknown unknowns' in the maritime environment such as unidentified vessels, unreported illegal activities, and smuggling routes. In fact, what happens in your immediate waters could invariably affect the security of mine.
"Information sharing can bridge these information and time gaps, by providing actionable information to the correct parties, for operational responses. This is why the IFC was established 10 years ago," he added.
He was speaking at the 10th anniversary celebration and launch of the Real-time Information Sharing System, dubbed Iris, at RSS Singapura-Changi Naval Base.
The event was attended by navy chiefs and vice-chiefs, coast guard directors-general and representatives from more than 40 nations.
Established in April 2009, the IFC is hosted by the Republic of Singapore Navy at Changi Naval Base. It is a regional maritime security centre that facilitates information sharing and collaboration between countries.
Its latest, next-generation portal, the Iris, includes tools such as chat functions to provide a common platform across maritime stakeholders. Documents, pictures and videos can be shared and exchanged.
The Web-based system also has a better user interface and enhanced graphics, to allow for easier navigation and better user experience.
It can also now be accessed through mobile devices on board ships at sea, in addition to shore-based operations centres, improving access to information.
Dr Maliki said the growing phenomenon of transnational connectivity means that perpetrators can more easily exploit maritime activities to conduct egregious, and potentially large-scale, transboundary crimes.
"And to be clear - transboundary threats require a transboundary response," he said.
Information flows much faster and easier across multiple domains in today's digital age, he said.
"IFC's role in facilitating information sharing and providing actionable information to cue responses by regional and international navies, coast guards and other maritime agencies to deal with maritime security threats, is thus more important than ever," he added.
Highlighting the contributions of the centre, Dr Maliki give the example of the arrest of STS 50, a stateless fishing vessel with multiple criminal records for illegal fishing, slavery and identity frauds, in April last year.
It was constantly on the run and managed to evade the authorities in various countries by assuming different identities.
The Interpol and French international liaison officers provided information to the IFC, which later informed the Indonesian Navy, resulting in the capture of the wanted vessel in the waters off northern Sumatra.
Dr Maliki said this arrest was possible because international partners gathered to piece together information.
"This highlighted the strength and necessity of transnational cooperation embodied in the IFC's success, and will continue to drive future missions," he added.
In 2014, the IFC also supported the search and locate operations for the missing MH370 flight.
It reached out to its network of shipping companies via its Voluntary Community Reporting system to report any debris sightings that could help narrow down the search area.
At Tuesday's event, Dr Maliki also met participants of the Maritime Information Sharing Exercise, involving personnel such as navies and coast guards from 36 countries.
The exercise, taking place from Monday to Wednesday, uses the Iris platform to track vessels, sense-make situations and share information on various maritime security threats, including maritime terrorism, unregulated fishing, as well as contraband smuggling.
Other participants include representatives from the shipping industry, as well as international agencies such as Interpol, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre.