The Malaysia-Singapore maritime border spat: A chronology

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama): Malaysia and Singapore, as close neighbours, share maritime boundaries and not all disputes on boundaries have been resolved.

The Malaysia and Singapore bilateral spat on maritime boundaries with matters related to the Johor Baru port limits resurfaced on Dec 4 when the republic claimed that the recent extension of the limits had encroached into Singaporean territorial waters off Tuas.

Malaysia said the claim was inaccurate, pointing out that the new port limits were in its territorial sea.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook on Dec 5 pointed out that Singapore's extensive land reclamation in the area in question did not extend a State's base points and/ or baselines.

He said in accordance with international law, the territorial sea of Singapore remained unchanged even when reclamation had been carried out almost to the outer limits of Singapore's territorial sea.

According to Bernama's records, the spat might have started in 2002, when Singapore conducted its reclamation work in the area bordering the maritime boundary between the two countries.

The following is a chronology of events in the area:

January 2002: Malaysia sends protest note to Singapore on the reclamation work in the area bordering the maritime boundary between Johor and Singapore.

Then Foreign Minister Datuk Seri (now Tan Sri) Syed Hamid Albar says the note was sent after Malaysia discovered that in the reclamation process, Singapore had encroached into Malaysian territory and that was verified by Malaysian government agencies.

March 17, 2002: Singapore's reclamation works are affecting the Johor ports of Pasir Gudang and Tanjung Pelepas, says the Johor Port Authority.

March 27, 2002: Singapore says it will continue to carry out land reclamation despite complaints from Malaysia that such works at the narrow Straits of Johor separating the two countries will disrupt shipping access and the environment.

March 29, 2002: Prime Minister Datuk Seri (now Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad criticises Singapore for refusing to cooperate with Malaysia in resolving the issue of land reclamation in the Straits of Johor.

April 5, 2002: Singapore's National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan says the republic sees no reason why it should consult neighbouring Malaysia before carrying out land reclamation within its territory.

He says the reclamation will not affect the territorial border in the straits that has been ratified by the two countries in 1995 and the agreement cannot be altered unilaterally.

July 4, 2003: Malaysia refers the issue to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to request for provisional measures, pending the setting up of the arbitral tribunal.

Oct 9, 2003: Foreign Minister Syed Hamid says Malaysia is satisfied with the decision of the ITLOS which imposed many conditions on Singapore to continue with its land reclamation in the Johor Straits.

In his judgment, tribunal president judge L. Dolliver M.Nelson also directs Singapore and Malaysia to set up a group of independent experts to monitor the reclamations works.

Nov 8, 2004: The Group of Experts (GOE) established by Malaysia and Singapore to study the impact of land reclamation by Singapore in and near the Straits of Johor submits its final reports to the two governments.

Wisma Putra says in a statement agreed by both governments that the reports and recommendations will be studied by Malaysia and Singapore.

April 26, 2005: Malaysia and Singapore sign an agreement that will bring an end to the dispute over land reclamation activities in and around the Straits of Johor.

Singapore agrees, among other things, to modify the final design of the reclamation at Pulau Tekong, pay the full cost of scour protection works at Tanjung Belungkor Jetty, and pay compensation to Malaysian fishermen.

Malaysia, on the other hand, will be responsible for the full cost of scour protection works at Pularek Jetty and agrees to terminate its arbitration case against Singapore.

Recent events

Oct 25, 2018: Malaysia publishes Federal Government Gazette P.U (B) 587: Declaration of Alteration of Port Limits for Johor Baru Port.

Nov 5, 2018: Singapore conveys a Diplomatic Note protesting the extension of the Johor Baru port limits.

Dec 4, 2018: Singapore Ministry of Transport notes "with grave concern" that Malaysia recently purported to extend the Johor Baru port limits in a manner which encroaches into Singapore Territorial Waters (STW) off Tuas.

Singapore lodges a strong protest with the Malaysian government.

Singapore claims that over the past two weeks, vessels from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and Marine Department Malaysia repeatedly intruded into STW off Tuas.

Dec 5, 2018: Malaysia finds Singapore's claims inaccurate as the altered port limits for the Johor Baru Port have not in any way encroached into Singapore's territory, says Transport Minister Anthony Loke.

Loke says Singapore has, in recent years carried out extensive land reclamation in the area in question and it is trite law that land reclamation does not extend a state's base points and/or baselines.

Singapore reiterates its territorial waters do extend westward of current port limits around Tuas, according to the republic's Ministry of Transport spokesman.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir says the government is prepared to conduct a survey on the maritime border of Malaysia and Singapore to see if it is true that Malaysian ships are intruding into the waters of the republic.

Dec 6, 2018: Singapore claims that Malaysian government vessels have since been continually intruding into its Territorial Waters off Tuas with 14 intrusions so far.

Singapore protested the repeated intrusions via three Third Person Notes.

Its Minister for Transport, Khaw Boon Wan says in view of these recent provocative developments, Singapore will extend the Singapore Port Limits off Tuas via Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (Port Limits) (Amendment) Notification 2018.

Dec 7, 2018: Malaysia proposes to Singapore for both countries to cease and desist from sending assets into the disputed area of Tuas, effective 0000 hours on Dec 8, pending discussions on outstanding maritime boundary issues.

Malaysia protests the decision of the Government of Singapore's issuance of Port Marine Circular No.9 of 2018 dated Dec 6, 2018, by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore which purports to extend Singapore's port limits off Tuas.

Singapore does not agree with Malaysia's proposal for both countries to cease and desist from sending assets into the disputed area, according to the republic's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Dec 8, 2018: Dr Mahathir says differences between Malaysia and Singapore over their maritime boundaries will be addressed based on legal provisions and rights.

Dec 10, 2018: Prime Minister Dr Mahathir says Malaysian vessels will stay put in the disputed waters along the Malaysia-Singapore maritime border until the negotiation process on the maritime border between the two countries is settled.

Singapore welcomes the Malaysian government's agreement that officials of both countries meet in the second week of January 2019 to exchange views on resolving the Johor Baru port limits issue, according to Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

Singapore reiterates its call to Malaysia to revert to the status quo prior to Oct 25, 2018.

"Malaysia will be (held) responsible for any untoward situations on the ground that arise from continued deployment of its vessels into this area," it says.

Dec 12, 2018: Singapore has "strongly urged" Malaysia to withdraw completely its vessels from disputed waters which it claims to be its territorial waters.

Singapore Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan says Malaysia has withdrawn two vessels from the disputed area but one still remains there.

Dec 13, 2018: Singapore files a declaration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) to ensure Malaysia does not unilaterally commence third-party arbitration or adjudication against the republic over their ongoing maritime boundary dispute.

Singapore, likewise, cannot unilaterally commence third-party arbitration or adjudication against Malaysia. – Bernama

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