Military Capabilities

Tensions between Malaysia, Singapore re-escalate after minister’s ‘intrusion’

13 January 2019

Chief Minister of Johor, Osman Sapian (centre), surveying the disputed waters in a Malaysia Marine Department vessel, with patrol boats from the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) and the Singapore Police Coast Guard (background) tailing behind. Source: Osman Sapian via Facebook

Key Points

  • Malaysia has redeployed a buoy tender into waters with overlapping maritime territorial claims
  • Deployment has cast doubt over seeming progress made between the two countries to resolve the maritime dispute

Tensions in waters off Tuas have re-escalated as Malaysia carries on with intermittent deployments of its government vessels into an area claimed by Singapore and Putrajaya.

According to automatic identification system (AIS) data reviewed by Jane's via the IHS Markit Maritime Portal on 14 January, the 85 m buoy tender from Malaysia's Marine Department known as MV Polaris has re-entered the disputed territory off Tuas in western Singapore.

The vessel sailed into these waters at close to its maximum speed of 12 kt at about 1630 h local time on 13 January, and is currently on station about 0.5 n mile off the Singapore coast.

Polaris first triggered off tensions between the two countries on 3 December 2018, when it sailed into the disputed area, located approximately 1 n mile off the coast of Tuas in western Singapore, and 5.3 n miles off Tanjung Piai in southern Malaysia.

Singapore considers the area as part of its maritime territory but on 25 October 2018, the Malaysian government announced an alteration to its port limits in the Johor Strait to now include the same waters.

The move effectively created approximately 2 n miles 2 of overlapping maritime territorial claims between the two countries. Singapore has also reciprocally amended its port limits in response to Malaysia's revision in October 2018.

Polaris ' presence in the area led to rotational deployments of vessels from the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), and the Singapore Police Coast Guard (PCG) since December 2018.

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