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One Malaysian ship remains in S’pore waters as tension eases, but Khaw warns of ‘accidental escalation’

SINGAPORE — Malaysia has in recent days pulled back a vessel from the waters off Tuas, leaving one government ship still anchored in Singapore waters, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan told reporters on Wednesday (Dec 12).

One Malaysian ship remains in S’pore waters as tension eases, but Khaw warns of ‘accidental escalation’

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan noted that Malaysia had “taken some steps” to reduce the tensions, but it has not agreed to withdraw completely from Singapore’s territorial waters.

SINGAPORE — Malaysia has in recent days pulled back a vessel from the waters off Tuas, leaving one government ship still anchored there, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan told reporters on Wednesday (Dec 12).

While Malaysia has committed to de-escalate the situation, Mr Khaw stressed that the continued presence of the ship creates “an unnecessary risk of an accidental escalation on the ground”. With bilateral discussions set to take place next month, he “strongly” urged Malaysia to withdraw from Singapore’s waters completely. The risk is “not conducive to the upcoming bilateral discussions”, he stressed.

In the meantime, Singapore’s security agencies “continue to patrol our waters and keep a close watch”, he added.

At a press conference last Thursday, Mr Khaw revealed that 14 intrusions had occurred since Oct 25.

On Wednesday, he noted that Malaysia had “taken some steps” to reduce the tensions, but it has not agreed to withdraw completely from Singapore’s territorial waters.

“This creates an unnecessary risk of an accidental escalation on the ground,” he said.

“Peaceful resolution is always the best way forward, but as I’ve said it doesn’t add to your legal case, and my worry all the time is accidents can happen.

“These are big ships, a few thousand tonnes. And they move at great speed. You don’t know what will happen, and it may not be intended, but what if accidents happen, then what?”

He reiterated that Malaysia — which unilaterally expanded the Johor Baru port limits on Oct 25 — has “acknowledged” that stationing ships in Singapore’s waters has no effect on their legal claim, and that its government is committed to taking “all effective measures to de-escalate on the ground”.

He added: “We value our bilateral relations with Malaysia and that is why we are trying our best to find a peaceful solution to the current dispute.”

Since last week, Singapore and Malaysia’s transport agencies have been involved in a public exchange of words regarding separate protests lodged against each other over issues related to airspace and territorial waters.

Following Kuala Lumpur’s move to publish a declaration on the alteration of Johor Baru port limits, Singapore’s transport ministry noted that Malaysian vessels — including those from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and Marine Department Malaysia — had repeatedly entered Singapore’s territorial waters off Tuas.

The Singapore Government has strongly protested Malaysia’s move to unilaterally extend its port limits, which is a violation of sovereignty and international laws.

Officials from the two countries are due to meet in the second week of January next year to discuss the maritime dispute. However, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Monday that the country will keep its vessels in the waters off Tuas while talks continue.

Mr Khaw said that there “will always be some disputes” between Malaysia and Singapore as neighbouring countries. “It is how you address them and always have the hope and optimism that something better can come out of it,” he said.

His message to Malaysia? “Let me sit down with you and understand,” said Mr Khaw, adding that this was how he had worked with Malaysian Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail project.

The project was delayed for two years at Malaysia’s request, with the country having to pay Singapore S$15 million in “abortive costs”.

“We could have taken a completely legalistic approach to that project. We chose not to,” Mr Khaw pointed out. “I’m sure it can be applied to other sectors too… however (if Malaysia) preferred to do something else, then there is a different approach. We have options too.”

 

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