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  Today Online 7 Sep 07
Global support for strait protection
Jasmine Yin

Straits Times 5 Sep 07
Malacca Strait users to help keep waterway safe and clean
Landmark development will lead to international cooperation
in six projects costing US$50m
By Khushwant Singh

FOR decades, the job of keeping the Strait of Malacca safe for navigation and free of pollution fell on Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Yesterday, the first step was taken to have the responsibility shared by more of the international community, especially those who use the waterway.

The Co-operative Mechanism is the culmination of at least three years of intensive work by the three littoral countries as well as the standards-setting International Maritime Organisation.

It gives a platform for users of the waterway to exchange views as well as to sponsor and take up projects that keep the Strait safe for ships. It also proposes setting up a fund for the maintenance of navigational safety aids, such as light buoys, which can cost about US$3 million (S$4.5 million) to US$4 million a year.

It is a landmark development, given that the call for such international cooperation to safeguard waterways was actually enshrined in 1982 in the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea.

So far, China, South Korea, Australia and the United States have stepped forward. Other countries are expected to signal their participation at the end of the three-day international meeting that Singapore is hosting at the Swissotel The Stamford.

Deputy Prime Minister and Law Minister S. Jayakumar, making the keynote speech to 300 delegates from more than 50 countries and the shipping and oil industries, said it was fitting that the Strait of Malacca would be charting the new framework for international cooperation.

Already, an estimated 11 million barrels of oil from the Middle East to East Asia go through the waterway, and this is expected to go up to as many as 20 million barrels by 2020.

'This means that not only the energy consuming countries in Asia, but also the energy supplying countries in the Middle East and beyond, have a legitimate interest in the safety and security of these Straits,' he said.

Congestion and accidents in the Strait can cause disruptions to the flow of oil and other cargo and affect the coastal and marine environment.

Recognising this, Japan had contributed US$130 million in the past 35 years to navigation safety.

According to shippers, one sticking point over the years was whether territorial sovereignty would be compromised should other countries get involved.

There was also the question of cost, or how much each country or shipping company should pay towards the upkeep of the waterway.

In an apparent response to these concerns, the new framework calls for voluntary participation not just at forums, but also in contributing to the six projects that have been identified, as well as the Aids to Navigation Fund.

This fund will use contributions from countries and shippers to replace or repair navigation aids like lighthouses, light buoys and beacons. China, for example, is sponsoring the replacement of five lighthouses and beacons damaged by the 2004 tsunami.

The other five projects range from removing wrecks in the Strait to setting up a tide, current and wind measurement system. The six projects would cost about US$50 million.

Commodore Muhammed Farooque, chairman of the Bangladesh's Chittagong Port Authority, is all for protecting the Strait. 'Several billion US dollars worth of our garments pass through these waterways to the US and I'm sure that Bangladesh would consider helping in one way or another.

'The programme is very flexible so every country can play its part.'

Today Online 7 Sep 07
Global support for strait protection
Jasmine Yin

EXCEPT for removing wrecks that block navigational flow at a cost of about US$5 million ($7.6 million) per removal all five other projects to protect the marine environment and boost safety in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore have been taken up by the international community, at the close of a three-day conference here.

For example, China, the United States and Australia have shown interest in a project that seeks to protect the waterways' marine environment, in the event of an oil spill or similar incidents of hazardous substances. It is estimated to cost some $5.3 million.

The five projects which also include the repair and maintenance of navigation aids such as lighthouses, and a tide measurement system cost an estimated total of $55 million.

Also pledging their support were countries like Japan, South Korea and Indonesia. More than 252 participants, representing 50 countries and 17 maritime-related organisations, witnessed the launch of the Co-operative Mechanism, which provides a new framework for the littoral states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to work with the international maritime community in the strait.

This framework, hailed by some as a milestone, is a result of years of efforts by the trio and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

It will enable users of the waterways to exchange views, jointly undertake projects and contribute money to the Aids to Navigation Fund.

Earlier, doubts were cast on the littoral states' territorial sovereignty, as well as financing arrangements to upkeep the strait, in the event of such international co-operation.

At the conference, the Singapore Statement affirming the sovereignty and territorial rights of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia over the waterway, was adopted.

Also recognised was the "strategic importance" of the waterway to global and sea-borne trade and economy, as well as the need for the strait to "remain safe and open".

An estimated 11 million barrels of oil from the Middle East pass through the strait to reach East Asia. This figure is expected to spike to some 20 million barrels by 2020.

In his closing remarks, Permanent Secretary at the Transport Ministry Choi Shing Kwok welcomed the "strong support and endorsement" for the Co-operative Mechanism from the international maritime community.

Urging more to step forward to contribute, he said: "It affirms the belief of the littoral states that we have charted the right path forward."

Speaking for the IMO, Mr K Sekimizu noted that "substantial progress" was made at the conference, whose conclusion marked the "start of a new round of work" to get things going.

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