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Two Malaysian vessels stubbornly remain in Singapore waters, even after meeting between foreign ministers

Coconuts logo Coconuts 11/1/2019 Coconuts Singapore
a group of people standing next to a body of water: Photo: Osman Sapian / Facebook Photo: Osman Sapian / Facebook

Despite both its foreign ministers having met face to face on Tuesday and promised to play nice with each other, the maritime dispute between Singapore and Malaysia is far from over. After all, there are two Malaysian vessels still remaining in Singapore’s territorial waters, not complying at all to the city-state’s sovereignty.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) confirmed yesterday that two Malaysian government vessels have yet to leave Singapore’s territorial waters off Tuas as of 6pm yesterday. One of the vessels — MV Pedoman — even hosted a visit by Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian on Wednesday, despite being anchored in Singapore’s waters.

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The Malaysian Marine Department disagreed, asserting that the buoy-laying vessel is well within the Johor Bahru Port limits.

Be that as it may, but having two Malaysian government vessels parked in Singapore’s waters is a much better situation than it was on Wednesday, when there were as many as five of them, according to the MPA.

Troubled waters

The maritime dispute erupted last year when Singapore warned its northern neighbors to back off after Malaysia sent government vessels into its waters.

The strained relations began back on Oct 25, when Malaysia published altered limits to its Johor Bahru Port, which extended significantly eastward and intruded into Singapore’s territorial waters. Despite Singapore’s objection to the changes (three diplomatic notes were sent), it appears that Malaysia paid no heed to the protest and allowed its vessels to cruise into Singapore waters after the alteration.

Malaysia, on the other hand, disagreed that the altered Johor Port Limits infringed on Singapore’s territorial waters off Tuas, emphasizing that its government vessels were simply patrolling its territorial waters.

“This is a blatant provocation and a serious violation of our sovereignty and international law,” said Singapore’s Minister of Transport Khaw Boon Wan, who said that there had been at least 14 intrusions made by the vessels prior to Dec 6.

But that was back then, when tensions were still pretty high. Things are relatively calmer now that the countries’ foreign ministers held a “fruitful and positive” meeting earlier this week. According to Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, they’ve agreed to establish a working group to discuss how they can de-escalate the situation on the ground.

The day after the meeting, Singapore’s next potential prime minister Heng Swee Keat called for calm and unity among Singaporeans, while also urging Malaysia to cease their intrusions.

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