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Security emphasized for
Malacca, Asia's Most Important Sea Lane
Says Malaysian Defence Minister Razak in Seoul
Mr. Najib Tun Razak, Malaysia's deputy prime minister and minister of defense

Located between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, the Malacca Strait is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world, and one of the most endangered. About 60,000 ships, carrying half the world's oil and more than a third of its economy, pass it every year. This makes it equivalent in its importance to the Suez or Panama Canal.

"Located in one of the world's most vibrant economic growth areas, it is a crucial link for international trade and transportation," the Hon Dato' Sri Najib Tun Abdul Razak, deputy prime minister of Malaysia told the audience in an address on the security of the Straits of Malacca, on March 13, 2007.

The seminar took place in a hotel in Seoul and attracted numerous journalists and embassy officials, such as Colonel Tim Gall of the New Zealand Defence Force and Colonel Bernd Gieber, defence attaché of the German embassy. The address was jointly hosted by the embassy of Malaysia and the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS).

"Germany is largely an export nation and has a prospering ship building industry. That's why we are very much concerned about the security of the seaways," Mr. Gieber explained the reasons for his attending.

The strait's economic importance drew the attention of a threat, which seemed long forgotten in marine history: piracy. A threat which grew so eminent, that the Lloyd Market's Association (an insurance company) declared the Malacca Straits an area that is in jeopardy of "war, strikes, terrorism and related perils" in 2005. The LMA revoked this decision later in August 2006. Nevertheless, in 2004, from all the piracy crimes worldwide, 40 percent were committed in this area.

After the 9/11 attacks on World Trade Centre, another frightening scenario rose in the heads of analysts. A terror attack in this area could critically wound one of world trade's most important veins, leading to an economic collapse in this region.

If terrorists would sink a ship at the most shallow part of the strait, no ship could pass through and the whole traffic would be blocked. Fears rose, when video footage of Malaysian police patrols along the Malacca Straits, appeared on the al-Qaeda network, suggesting there was already a plan in progress.

"After 9/11 we were worried about a connection between pirates and al-Qaeda. But we are tracking this very closely and I can assure you that there is no evidence for such a case so far," the deputy prime minister ensured the audience.

In order to find a response to the threat, authorities in some Asian countries are operating together. Malaysia, Thailand and Japan recently joined in a first anti-piracy exercise near the Thai island resort of Phuket.

United efforts, through coordinated patrols and eye-in-the-sky surveillance have recently shown huge success in decreasing the piracy rate.

"In comparison to the year 2003 and 2004 that recorded 28 and 37 cases respectively, the year 2006 only recorded 11 cases with 19 cases in 2005," Mr. Razak explained.

But not only pirates and terrorist threaten the ships traveling the lane. Another danger is navigational problems. With increasing volume of traffic (62,000 ships in 2005 compared to 44,000 in 1999), the littoral states face huge problems in ensuring a safety of navigation.

"The waterway is still an accident-prone area. This is despite the fact that the navigational aids to facilitate smooth flow of traffic in the straits are already in place," the deputy prime minister continued.

Another challenge for the littoral states of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand are the environmental threats.

"The increase in traffic volume and sometime heavy fog poses the risk of ship collisions and the threat of shore-based pollution," he said.

But even so the international community is one of the main users of the Straits of Malacca, it so far lacked in contributing to the costs, necessary for maintaining its security.

"Malaysia finds it difficult to accept that while the international users consider the straits as an international sea lane which they have the right to use, however, the efforts of maintaining and securing the waterway have always been regarded the responsibility of the littoral states," he complained.

So far only Japan has given assistance and resources regarding navigational and environmental security. Its interest in secure Malacca Straits is obvious. Together with China, most of their oil from the Middle East and its exports to Southeast Asian and Arab markets are ferried on tankers and ships that use the Malacca Straits.

"The Straits of Malacca will continue to face a plethora of challenges whether existing or emerging in the years ahead. There is thus a need for the littoral states and the stakeholders to go beyond the confidence building stage to concrete collaboration by realizing modalities for cooperation," he finished his speech.






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