Military Capabilities

Singapore vows restraint in maritime row with Malaysia

15 January 2019

The Republic of Singapore Navy's first-of-class Littoral Mission Vessel, RSS Independence (right), keeping an eye on Malaysian Marine Department ship MV Pedoman, off Tuas Source: Singapore Ministry of Defence

Key Points

  • Singapore's navy and coastguard have been ordered to exercise restraint in the maritime dispute with Malaysia
  • The stance was taken to avoid jeopardising ongoing efforts by the foreign ministries of both countries to resolve the dispute via negotiations

Vessels from the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and the Singapore Police Coast Guard (PCG) have been ordered to exercise restraint when dealing with Malaysian government ships in the newly disputed territorial waters of Tuas, in western Singapore.

In his parliamentary address on 15 January, Singapore's defence minister Ng Eng Hen assured legislators that the country's security agencies are fully capable of enforcing its maritime territorial claims and can compel Malaysian government vessels to leave the disputed area.

However, these agencies have been advised to not undertake any actions that may escalate tensions with Putrajaya and jeopardise efforts to reach a peaceful conclusion on the maritime disputes.

The minister was responding to questions from members of parliament, who wanted to know how the RSN and the PCG have responded to what the country sees as intrusions by Malaysian government vessels into Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas.

"Since 3 December 2018, when intrusions by [Malaysian government vessels] began, our security personnel have repeatedly pressed these vessels to withdraw from [Singapore territorial waters off Tuas]", said Ng.

"We will continue to do so as their presence does not strengthen Malaysia's legal claims in any way and indeed, as we have said before, can result in mishaps or regrettable incidents," he added.

The maritime disputes off Tuas began on 25 October 2018 after Malaysia announced an alteration to its port limits in the Johor Strait to include waters that Singapore considers its territory. The overlapping claims are located about 1 n mile (1.85 km) off the coast of Tuas, and 5.3 n miles off Tanjung Piai in southern Malaysia.

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