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Tuesday April 17, 2007

Malaysia says joint patrols with Indonesia, Singapore in Malacca Strait can be examined

KUALA LUMPUR: Joint patrols by Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia to secure the Malacca Strait, the world's busiest maritime trade route, are possible but there are hurdles to overcome, Malaysia's deputy prime minister said Tuesday. 

The three countries straddling the waterway launched coordinated maritime and air patrols in recent years to curb piracy and address fears that terrorists may target some of the 65,000 vessels that pass through it every year, carrying half the world's oil and more than a third of its commerce. 

Asked if the coordinated patrols could eventually be turned into joint patrols, Najib Razak said: "We can examine them but we have to overcome some sensitivities. 

"At the end of the day, the objective is to make the Straits of Malacca very, very secure and we have done that. 

"Hopefully we can make it even more secure in the future,'' Najib, who is also defence minister, told reporters at a military legal conference here. 

The three countries' enforcement agencies are working closely in sharing information as well as to intercept ships that carry suspicious cargo, he said. 

Najib did not elaborate on what these sensitivities are but officials said there are concerns that joint patrols could impinge on one another's territorial rights. 

Robberies and kidnappings by pirates directed against commercial shipping have fallen following increased security patrols, with 11 cases last year compared to 18 in 2005 and 38 in 2004. 

Maritime experts said joint patrols between the three states could help plug loopholes by allowing a navy vessel to pursue suspected pirates into another country's waters to prevent escape. 

"Joint patrols would be effective and would help further improve the situation in the Malacca Strait,'' Captain Pottengal Mukundan, director of the London-based International Maritime Bureau, told The Associated Press. 

"The governments will have to agree on this for it to happen. We need to keep on looking for ways to strengthen security in the strait,'' he said on the sidelines of the conference. 

In a speech earlier, Najib called for greater exchange of information and maritime cooperation in the region to combat assaults at sea as pirates become more organized with advanced communication, weapons and high speed crafts. 

Malaysia welcomes international initiatives to enhance maritime security but such measures must be in accordance with international laws, he said. 

He said Malaysia has not signed the proliferation security initiative (PSI), which allows inspection of ships suspected of trafficking in nuclear and other illegal material, because it feels certain aspects of the PSI do not conform to international norms. 

Malaysia however, supports the objectives of the PSI and has been participating as an observer in PSI exercises for the past two years, he added. 

He did not give other details. - AP 

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