Call for more efforts to keep Malacca Straits safe, clean

SINGAPORE, Malaysia and Indonesia must step up their efforts to keep the Straits of Malacca pollution-free and safe for navigation.

This was one of the recommendations made at a three-day conference here on sustainable development of coastal and ocean areas in South-east Asia which ended yesterday.

The conference was organised jointly by the National University of Singapore, the Bangkok-based South-east Asian Programme in Ocean, Law and Policy, and the Commission on Environmental Law.

Besides calling on countries in the region to ratify the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, the 70 participants from government agencies, private sector and academia also recommended that countries in the region fight marine pollution collectively.

Explaining the need to step up efforts to fight marine pollution in the straits, Indonesia’s ambassador-at-large Hashim Djalal told The Straits Times:

“Traffic and accidents are increasing, fishermen are active and new development projects are taking place along the coastlines. The problem at this point is whether we have been left behind by such developments.” He said that groundwork was already in place for them to work together.

Among other things, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have introduced a traffic-separation scheme, installed navigational aids at certain points in the straits and developed a contingency plan for oil pollution.

The three countries also took turns to administer a revolving fund, which is used to cover the cost of clean-up operations.

But more had to be done in view of the increasing traffic and accidents on the straits.

The straits has an average daily traffic of 2,000 vessels and is the third-busiest sea lane in the world after the Panama and Suez canals.

A spate of accidents, oil spills and pirate attacks in recent years has also made the waterway one of the world’s most perilous.

From 1981 until 1992, a total of 126 ships were involved in accidents – 43 ran aground, 38 sank, 13 collided, three caught fire and 29 had unspecified problems.

Mr Djalal suggested that navigational maps and hydrographic surveys be redrawn because they might be outdated. Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore could also co-ordinate their policies on coastal development.

International Maritime Organisation official Chua Thia Eng said that the three countries had to establish a long-term financing mechanism to combat pollution. They also had to improve their contingency plans to deal with oil spills.

But Dr Chia Lin Sien, a National University of Singapore maritime expert, noted: “The best system in the world will not prevent accidents because there is always the possibility of human error.”

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