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Busy shipping lane’s narrow passageway hard for vessels to navigate

The Straits of Malacca and Singapore is the world’s busiest shipping lane, and the congested traffic in the narrow passageway makes it difficult for vessels to navigate, said maritime experts yesterday.

Ships are seen anchored in front of a refinery on Singapore's Bukom Island. About a quarter of the world's seaborne oil trade passes through the Malacca Strait, a choke point on the route between the Middle East and the energy-hungry economies of East Asia. Reuters file photo

Ships are seen anchored in front of a refinery on Singapore's Bukom Island. About a quarter of the world's seaborne oil trade passes through the Malacca Strait, a choke point on the route between the Middle East and the energy-hungry economies of East Asia. Reuters file photo

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The Straits of Malacca and Singapore is the world’s busiest shipping lane, and the congested traffic in the narrow passageway makes it difficult for vessels to navigate, said maritime experts on Monday (Aug 21).

Last year, a record 83,740 ships transited through it, according to the Seatrade Maritime News website.

“It’s always crowded, with ships entering Singapore and others passing by,” Mr Shigeru Kojima, adviser of the Japan Captains’ Association, told The New York Times.

“This is one of the top most difficult spots for ships going by.”

Apart from merchant vessels, it is also common for navy ships to go through this area given that Singapore is a “port of call” for navy ships from many countries including China and the United States, said Mr Ridzwan Rahmat, who is a senior analyst at defence consultancy Jane’s by IHS Markit. The high traffic, coupled with the narrow lanes, makes the area “relatively more challenging to navigate”, he added.

To manage the high traffic volume, Mr Ridzwan noted that the Singapore Strait is governed by a regime known as the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS), where vessels going towards the same direction stay on a specific traffic lane.

Initial analysis by Jane’s suggests that oil and chemical tanker Alnic MC — which was involved in monday’s collision with United States warship USS John S McCain — was in compliance with the TSS, he added.

The last known major accident in the area took place 14 years ago, involving a Singapore navy ship. On Jan 3, 2003, the Republic’s naval vessel RSS Courageous collided with a cargo ship, ANL Indonesia, near Horsburgh Lighthouse located on the island of Pedra Branca.

At the time of the incident, ANL Indonesia was en route from Port Klang, Malaysia, to Busan, South Korea, while RSS Courageous was conducting a regular patrol.

Findings from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore inquiry into the collision — which resulted in the deaths of four RSS Courageous crew members — showed that two naval officers in charge had made errors of judgment. They were later found guilty by the court and fined. FARIS MOKHTAR

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