Historic’ Cooperation Reached on Malacca Straits Safety

SINGAPORE ~ Southeast Asian nations have agreed to an “historic” cooperation mechanism to help improve safety in waterways which are vital to world trade, officials said this week.

Delegates from Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia began three days of meetings to launch the new “Cooperative Mechanism” to enhance the safety of navigation and environmental protection in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

One-third of the world’s trade and half of the world’s oil supply are carried through the Straits by about 90,000 vessels each year, said a document presented to the meeting.

“The importance of this meeting lies in the fact that it launches a new framework for cooperation in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore,” said Efthimios Mitropoulos, Secretary General of the International Maritime Organisation, a specialized United Nations agency.

“I view the Mechanism as an historic breakthrough of great significance,” he said in a speech.

He told AFP the Mechanism “is the institutionalization of the need to do something to ensure safe passage, safe and uninterrupted passage, through the Straits in all circumstances, in view of the tremendous significance, the strategic significance, of the Straits to seaborne trade and the world economy at large.”

The cooperative framework aims to promote dialogue between the littoral states, users and other stakeholders, as well as coordination in implementing projects to promote safety of navigation and environmental protection.

Users of the Straits, the shipping industry, and others would be able to contribute financially or provide other assistance to the projects, the framework said.

In his speech, Mitropoulos said that with an increasing volume of shipping, it may not be fair for coastal states alone to bear the cost of providing adequate navigation aids.

“The time may, therefore, have come for all parties who benefit from the existence of a safe infrastructure in the Straits to reflect seriously on their collective social responsibilities and to find ways and means, possibly through voluntary contributions, to discharge their relevant social obligations.”

Mitropoulos said the littoral states have identified six safety projects, two of which already have sponsors. China has undertaken to replace navigation aids damaged by a December, 2004 tsunami which devastated the region, he said, while China and the United States are working on preparedness for hazardous material spills.

Funds will have to be secured for the other four projects, including a top-priority project to remove wrecks which pose a hazard, he said.

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