YAB Dato' Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak
Deputy Prime Minister
Symposium on the Enhancement of Safety of Navigation and the Environmental Protection of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore
March 13-14, 2007
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Mr Yohei Sasakawa
Chairman, Nippon Foundation
Distinguished speakers and participants
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen
I am indeed very pleased to deliver the keynote address at this Symposium on the Enhancement of the Safety of Navigation and Environment Protection of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. My sincere thanks to the organisers for inviting me.
Let me congratulate the four research institutes in the region, namely Japan International Transport Institute or JITI, and the three research institutes from the littoral states, the Maritime Institute of Malaysia or MIMA from Malaysia, the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies or RSIS from Singapore, and the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies or CSAS from Indonesia, for taking the initiative in organizing this symposium. The Nippon Foundation has demonstrated its support by sponsoring the event and for that, I take this opportunity to thank the Nippon Foundation.
The issue of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore as a sea-lane of communication is not solely the concern of governments. It is also a matter of interest to non-governmental organisations. Today's symposium organized by the track-two research institutions is a clear manifestation of their interest. Such initiatives especially at track-two level are very much welcomed as they provide valuable input. More so because as research institutes, they are not inhibited by constraints.
Ladies and gentlemen
I will be stating the obvious if I say that the Straits of Malacca and Singapore is one of the world's busiest sealanes. But this fact needs to be repeated to remind the stakeholders of the challenges in managing the Straits. We have to be mindful that last year alone, statistics indicate that over 65,000 ships sailed through this critical passageway. If one takes into account the smaller tugboats, fishing and barter trade vessels, this figure would be much higher. The volume of traffic in the waterway is expected to grow in the coming years in tandem with the increase in global trade and the rise of East Asian economies.
I am glad that this very issue of increasing traffic is at the heart of the theme of today's symposium. Obviously, with increased traffic comes along greater responsibilities and financial demands on the littoral states - namely Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore - to ensure safety of navigation to the burgeoning traffic in the Straits and to protect it from pollution. Undoubtedly, discharging these responsibilities will increase the financial burden which is constantly and continuously increasing.
Ladies and gentlemen
As you are all aware, the right of transit passage through the Straits of Malacca is provided in Article 38 of Part III of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982. Article 43 of UNCLOS stipulates that the user states should cooperate with the littoral states in ensuring the safety of navigation and the prevention of pollution. Notwithstanding this, more often than not, it is only the littoral states that are actually shouldering the heavy burden of maintaining the safety of navigation and environmental protection of the waterways.
This is indeed the reality in the case of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore whereby the littoral states have undertaken many initiatives, often incurring substantial investments. These initiatives are aimed at ensuring the safety and security of the Straits as well as mitigating problems emanating from busier traffic flow. Among others, these include maritime security measures such as coordinated patrols and 'Eyes in the Sky' initiative involving littoral states' navies and air forces. There may be the possibility in the future when the cost of maintaining the Straits may reach a point where it may not be possible for the littoral states to finance the maintenance of current projects and fund future ones.
At the same time, there are greater expectations of the user states for higher standards of navigational safety in the Straits. This being the case, there is thus a compelling reason for putting into practice what is envisaged by the UNCLOS, namely calling for cooperation of all parties concerned for the safe navigation in the Straits. Obviously this warrants collaborative and cooperative efforts among the user nations.
In this context, it is Malaysia's sincere hope that major user states could demonstrate greater cooperation and assistance towards capacity building for the littoral states. This can be in the form of technical assistance, training, and the exchange and sharing of information.
User states could also demonstrate their commitment by contributing regularly towards the management of the Straits of Malacca. Such funds are essential to undertake various measures that can complement the efforts of the littoral states. It is my hope that user states will be responsive to this idea as they are among the primary beneficiaries of the enhancement of safety of navigation in the Straits.
I understand that there is already in existence the Straits of Malacca Revolving Fund for the sole purpose of tackling problems related to oil spillage. Rather than setting up a new fund, user states may wish to consider the possibility of contributing towards this fund. Should the user states find it plausible, there may be a need to widen the scope of the Straits of Malacca Revolving Fund to go beyond oil spillage.
I understand that the idea of cooperation and collaboration has been discussed at the IMO Meeting in KL last year. It was agreed that the user states would contribute voluntarily towards the projects identified by the littoral states. Six projects have been identified. Some of these projects involve substantial expenditure while some much less expense. Being a voluntary arrangement, there is no obligation on the part of user states.
Malaysia has some reservations over this voluntary arrangement as it may not achieve the desired objectives. This is because user states may be more inclined to undertake projects that involve less expenses, thus leaving aside the costly ones. There may also be the possibility that projects identified may not be implemented in the near future for lack of sponsorship. Malaysia is, therefore, of the view that the user states should revisit the proposal in the next IMO meeting to ensure equitable participation amongst the user states vis-à-vis the projects identified.
I am of the view that any discourse on the Straits should not ignore the obligations of the shipowners. This is due to the fact that they are the most visible and intensive users of the Straits. Further, the majority of vessels plying the Straits do not call at ports along the Straits. In this context, I am of the view that it is incumbent upon the shipowners to contribute towards the upkeep of the Straits and support any endeavours that would add value to the efforts of the littoral states.
The contribution of the shipowners should be seen as part of their moral obligations towards burden sharing. However, I am mindful of the fact that a proposal of this nature warrants further deliberations to devise appropriate mechanism which can be set up in the near future.
Perhaps it could also be useful if the symposium participants could look into the practices in managing strategic waterways in other parts of the world. While I agree that the Straits is unique in many ways, we could learn some valuable lessons from the others. Such lessons may be useful in devising innovative ways to better manage the Straits.
Ladies and gentlemen
I understand the Nippon Foundation of Japan will be putting forward the idea of setting up a special fund to which Japanese shipping companies will voluntarily contribute to finance navigational aids and the removal of shipwrecks in the Straits of Malacca.
Malaysia fully supports such a proposal as navigation safety in the Straits should not be taken for granted by the international community. It should in fact be the collective responsibility of the users as well as the littoral states.
May I also remind the participants that while Malaysia welcomes any initiatives through the concept of burden sharing that could enhance the navigational safety of the Straits, such endeavours should not infringe the principles of sovereignty.
Ladies and gentlemen
I am sure that you will agree with me that there have been many discourses on the subject of enhancement of safety of navigation and environmental protection of the Straits. Many proposals on burden sharing have been discussed and yet only a few of these proposals have received positive response from stakeholders. While, on one hand, we are all concerned over the subject matter, on the other hand, there appears to be lukewarm response on the stakeholders in implementing the proposals. Hence, it is my sincere hope that this symposium would look into the merits of my proposals and translating them into affirmative action.
Last but not least, let me wish you a productive discussion and a successful meeting. To our foreign participants, allow me to take this opportunity to do my bit to promote Malaysia as a tourist destination by urging you to savour the sights of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia over the duration of your stay in our country. Many activities and programmes have been planned in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year 2007, and I hope you can spend some time to enjoy them.