Speech by Chief of Defence Force Major-General Perry Lim, at the 10th Anniversary of the Malacca Straits Patrol

Speech by Chief of Defence Force Major-General Perry Lim, at the 10th Anniversary of the Malacca Straits Patrol

Pak Ade, Chief of Naval Staff, Indonesian National Defence Forces
Admiral Na, Commander-in-Chief, Royal Thai Navy
Rear Admiral Lai Chung Han, Chief of Navy, Republic of Singapore Navy
Vice Admiral Anuwi, Deputy Chief of Navy, Royal Malaysian Navy
And delegates from the MSP Joint Co-ordinating Committees and the Joint Working Groups,

Good afternoon,

Let me bid everyone a warm welcome to Singapore. We are gathered here today to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Malacca Straits Patrol or MSP, and to observe the conduct of the 4th MSP Exercise. I am glad that you have all been able to take time off your busy schedules to be here to celebrate this significant milestone.

The Malacca Straits is an important strategic waterway that connects our four littoral states - Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand - to the rest of the world. Almost half of the world's total annual seaborne trade tonnage and 70% of Asia's oil imports pass through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. Our economies depend to a large extent on unimpeded global commerce plying through these key regional waterways. Keeping the Straits of Malacca and Singapore safe and secure is critical for the well-being of our countries. Hence, the importance of the MSP arrangements.

Let me briefly recount the establishment of the MSP. With the weakened global economy following the global financial crisis and the September 11 attacks, incidents of sea robberies rose steadily, reaching 38 cases in the Malacca Straits in the year 2004 alone and Lloyd's Joint War Committee listed the Malacca Straits as a war-risk area. This undermined the confidence of commercial shipping firms that plied through the Straits and in turn, had the potential to adversely affect our littoral states' economies.

We responded collectively and decisively. Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore launched the Trilateral Coordinated Patrols in July 2004. This effort enhanced the coordination amongst our navies' ground units and operations centres. The Trilateral Coordinated Patrols between the Indonesian Navy, the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Republic of Singapore Navy had an immediate impact in reducing piracy and sea robbery incidents in the Malacca Straits.

The following year, at the 2005 Shangri-La Dialogue, the littoral countries agreed on three principles that would underpin our maritime security cooperation. Firstly, that the primary responsibility of maritime security in the Malacca Straits lay with the littoral states. Secondly, that the international community and agencies like the International Maritime Organisation played significant roles to ensure that the Malacca Straits was safe and secure for passage. And thirdly, any measures taken had to be in accordance with international law, and had to respect the sovereignty of the littoral states.

Recognising that there was a need to supplement our navies' efforts with aerial surveillance, the "Eyes in the Sky" initiative or EiS was mooted at the 2005 Shangri-La Dialogue as well. The EiS was an innovative idea for multinational air patrols. Combined mission patrol teams were formed with personnel from each member country. Each day, these teams would fly on a maritime patrol aircraft belonging to one of the member states. This allowed for resources to be optimised and increased our collective awareness of our maritime situation. More importantly, it helped overcome sensitivities about flying through and within each other's airspace.

To undergird the sea and air patrols, an Intelligence Exchange Group or IEG was created in 2006, manned by intelligence experts from each of the MSP countries. The IEG further provided member countries with in-depth analysis of the maritime security situation.

On 21st of April 2006, our countries signed the official MSP Standard Operating Procedures, formalising the cooperative efforts between our countries' armed forces. The MSP Joint Coordinating Committee was also established at that time, as a means to communicate and coordinate our activities along the Malacca Straits. The MSP got a further boost in 2008, when Thailand joined as a member.

In 2008, we developed the Malacca Straits Patrol Information System, or the MSP-IS, to facilitate information-sharing and to further enhance coordination. This has proven to be a critical enabler towards cooperative action. As a regional information-sharing hub, Singapore's Information Fusion Centre, or IFC, has since been maintaining the MSP-IS. The IFC has also become a mainstay of the MSP since its inclusion in 2010. I understand that some of you have visited the IFC before, but I am happy to announce that this is the first event being held at the IFC following its renovation early this year. We are also the first official visitors to the centre.

Looking back, the MSP has proven to be a good model of practical cooperative action. This is made all the more significant as all four littoral countries have their own bilateral or multilateral issues to contend with. Yet, we have shown that we can still work together to effectively tackle issues of common interest such as piracy and sea robbery. The results achieved by MSP speak for themselves.

Following the launch of the Malacca Straits Sea Patrols in 2004 and the EiS in 2005, the incidence of piracy and sea robbery fell, with Lloyd's dropping the "war risk" classification for the Malacca Straits in August 2006. Statistics have been generally low in the years since.

Nevertheless, we must recognise that the threat of piracy and sea robbery would never go away fully. While the threat can be suppressed, it can also re-emerge if we let our guard down. In 2014, for example, there was a rise in the number of sea robbery and piracy cases, with new hotspots emerging in the Phillip Channel, the southern approaches of the Malacca Strait, as well as at the eastern approaches of the Singapore Strait.

What was more worrying was that while perpetrators in the past mainly stole valuables from ships' crew, we began to notice the emergence of a new kind of criminal - one that was more sophisticated and adept at hijacking of tankers to siphon their oil. These new criminals were frequently part of global syndicates operating across different countries, exploiting security loopholes that exist in the shipping industry.

The MSP's continued effectiveness hinges on the close cooperation between our navies. Our shared commitment and renewed vigour has led to a sharp decrease in piracy and sea robbery incidents. Notably, since November 2015, there have been zero successful incidents. The formation of the Indonesian Navy's Western Fleet Quick Response Team, which has afforded us quicker reaction once piracy alarms are sounded, is an example of such commitment. In October 2015, the merchant vessel Merlin reported to be attacked by pirates in the Philip Channel, and through the cues from IFC, the Western Fleet Quick Response Team was able to swiftly deploy their forces. The team successfully detained the pirate vessel. I understand the Western Fleet Quick Response Team has since continued to put several Pirate Action Groups out of business!

So, let us continue to innovate and strengthen our mutual cooperation, and continue to ensure that the MSP arrangement stays relevant and effective into the future. We must continue to find new ways to enhance the effectiveness of the MSP to deal with new threats. Indeed, over the past two weeks, the abduction of Indonesian and Malaysian citizens have shown how transnational threats can reach across borders and threaten regional maritime security. The threat of ISIS is also reaching our shores from the Middle East, presenting a clear and present danger to us all. Our navies could start exploring how we can better share information and work together to avert any maritime terrorism incident occurring in our waters.

In closing, I am heartened to announce that 2016 marks the tenth anniversary of the MSP. As we continue to work towards the shared goal of protecting our strategic waterways, we will celebrate this significant milestone by inaugurating the new MSP logo. It depicts our four countries working together, in three working groups, across two mediums - on the sea and in the air - and with one mission. It is my hope that with a greater shared identity, we can continue to mount effective responses against the common challenges that we face.

Thank you.

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