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Singapore to reclaim land around Pedra Branca to build facilities to improve maritime safety and security

SINGAPORE — Singapore will start reclaiming land around Pedra Branca by the end of this year, as part of planned development work that was postponed because of an earlier legal tussle with Malaysia over the island’s sovereignty.

Pedra Branca sits near the entrance to the Singapore Strait about 44km to the east of the country.

Pedra Branca sits near the entrance to the Singapore Strait about 44km to the east of the country.

  • The Housing and Development Board will reclaim land around Pedra Branca
  • The development work will improve facilities on the island, let vessels berth and allow more facilities to be set up
  • It will take a few years to complete 
  • The work, announced in 2019, had been postponed owing to a sovereignty dispute with Malaysia

 

SINGAPORE — Singapore will start reclaiming land around Pedra Branca by the end of this year, as part of planned development work that was postponed because of an earlier legal tussle with Malaysia over the island’s sovereignty. 

The work will improve facilities on the island and allow vessels to berth. 

Extra logistics, administrative support and communications facilities will also be set up.

The moves will improve maritime safety and security, and search-and-rescue capabilities in the area, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said on Monday (July 5). 

“Generally, the development works will afford us greater awareness over the waters around Pedra Branca, and allow us to respond more quickly to maritime safety and security threats,” a ministry spokesperson said. 

The improvement work, announced in 2019, is expected to take a few years.

It will be done within 0.9km of the 0.86ha island and Singapore’s territorial waters off the island, MND said in a statement.

“All works carried out will be in accordance with Singapore’s domestic laws and international law,” its spokesperson added.

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) will be responsible for the 7ha reclamation, which is the equivalent of about 10 soccer fields.  

One of HDB’s functions, besides building public housing, is to carry out reclamation work for the Government. 

Pedra Branca sits near the entrance to the Singapore Strait about 44km to the east of the country.

Right now, it houses facilities for Singapore’s vessel traffic information system, which monitors vessel movements in the country’s waters; a helipad; a desalination plant; a communications tower; and a military rebroadcast station, which improves air and naval communications. 

The island is also home to the Horsburgh Lighthouse, the first such tower in Singapore.

SAFER, MORE EFFECTIVE CONDUCT OF GOVT DUTIES

MND said that the development work would enable the country’s agencies to carry out their duties safely and more effectively.

Announcing the plan during a debate on MND’s budget in 2019, Mr Lawrence Wong, then National Development Minister, said that the work would not only enhance the area’s maritime safety and security but provide “more rapid response for search and rescue”.

MND noted that Singapore had considered these development efforts on Pedra Branca as early as the 1970s, but they were deferred owing to the dispute between Singapore and Malaysia over the sovereignty of Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.

Middle Rocks and South Ledge are rocky outcrops that lie south of Pedra Branca. 

The row over Pedra Branca started in 1979 when, for the first time, Malaysia published a map indicating the island to be part of its territory. 

The dispute went before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2003.

In 2008, the court ruled that Singapore had sovereignty over Pedra Branca.

It awarded Middle Rocks to Malaysia and ruled that South Ledge belonged to the state in whose territorial waters it is located.

In 2017, Malaysia sought to challenge the court’s 2008 judgement but, with a new government in power in 2018, withdrew its applications a fortnight before the scheduled oral hearings were due that year.

MND pointed out that the ICJ’s judgement expressly noted that Singapore had plans to reclaim land at Pedra Branca. 

“With the discontinuance of Malaysia’s applications for revision and interpretation of the ICJ’s judgement in 2018, Singapore will now proceed with these development works,” the ministry said. 

ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY

An environmental study to assess the work’s potential impact on the surrounding marine environment and ecology as well as navigational safety found that the effects could be minimised with mitigating measures. 

In response to enquiries, MND’s spokesperson said that the environment impact assessment, done by consultancy DHI Water and Environment, assessed that the development work would have no significant impact on currents, sediment movement, water quality, navigation, human health and recreational activities. 

Even so, coral habitats within the project’s direct footprint will be removed permanently. 

But a sloping perimeter bund — which ensures the integrity of a reclamation site — around the area will “create a similar habitat of a larger area to offset the loss of the original habitat”, said the ministry spokesperson.

Work has also been done before the start of construction to relocate some corals, particularly rare ones, from within the direct footprint of the project and a 100m buffer zone. 

“Some of the harvested coral fragments from the project area will be grown in a nursery for transplantation onto the new perimeter bund when construction is completed,” said MND’s spokesperson.

This and other ecological engineering measures, such as roughening the surface of concrete block structures, will enhance the natural settlement of corals into the new perimeter bund. 

Although coral habitats within the project's direct footprint will be removed permanently, a sloping perimeter bund around the area will “create a similar habitat of a larger area to offset the loss of the original habitat”, said a spokesperson for the Ministry of National Development. Photo: MND

The spokesperson added that a detailed environmental monitoring and management plan would be in place throughout the construction period. 

This tool is used in managing dredging and reclamation work daily to avoid major environmental impact.

It will entail online and manual monitoring of parameters including water quality, turbidity (the cloudiness of a liquid), currents and visual impact.

MND’s spokesperson added that a contingency response plan would also be prepared and a team set up to respond to situations where environmental quality objectives are not followed.

The ministry said that the Government would also take steps to ensure that the work does not affect the navigational safety of vessels in the area.

In a notice published in the Government Gazette on Monday, HDB said that the environment impact assessment report was ready for public viewing for four weeks. 

Interested parties may make an appointment with the agency to read the report in person.  

MND said: “The various technical and planning agencies will review the public feedback as well as HDB’s proposal for additional mitigation measures to address the feedback, if any. 

“The environment impact assessment will then be updated and finalised, before HDB proceeds to seek approval from the relevant regulatory agencies for the proposed works.” 

Related topics

Pedra Branca reclamation MND HDB Singapore strait

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