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Malaysia, Singapore reach agreement to de-escalate maritime, airspace tensions

08 January 2019
RSS Independence, one of the Littoral Mission Vessels deployed to monitor a Malaysian vessel that sailed into, and remained in waters Singapore claims as part of its port limits. Source: Singapore Ministry of Defence

Key Points

  • Leaders from Malaysia and Singapore have agreed on temporary measures to de-escalate maritime, airspace disagreements between the two countries
  • A Malaysian government vessel that was stationed in waters claimed by Singapore as part of its port limits has also been withdrawn

Leaders from Malaysia and Singapore have agreed on temporary measures to defuse recent disputes over airspace and maritime territory that have threatened to escalate in recent weeks.

The measures were agreed upon at a bilateral meeting that took place between the foreign ministers of both countries on 8 January in Singapore. Measures that will be taken include an immediate suspension of the restricted airspace enacted by Putrajaya in December 2018 over the southern Malaysian state of Johor, and the establishment of a working group of senior officials to examine the dispute over port limits in western Singapore.

Malaysia and Singapore, both of which have had decades-long disagreement over airspace and maritime territories, found themselves embroiled in the latest round of disputes after Putrajaya unilaterally announced an alteration to its port limits in the Johor Strait on 25 October 2018 to include waters that Singapore claims as part of its territory. These waters are located approximately 1 n mile off the coast of Tuas in western Singapore, and 5.3 n miles off Tanjung Piai in southern Malaysia.

In response to Malaysia's alteration, Singapore's transportation ministry has also published revised co-ordinates to Tuas' port limits. The move effectively gave rise to approximately 2 n miles 2 of overlapping maritime territorial claims between the two countries.

Tensions began to escalate on 3 December 2018 when Malaysia's Marine Department dispatched an 85 m buoy tender, MV Polaris , into the disputed waters, presumably to demarcate Putrajaya's newly declared port limits.

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