Speech by Senior Minister of State for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman at the 10th Anniversary Commemoration of the Information Fusion Centre

Speech by Senior Minister of State for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman at the 10th Anniversary Commemoration of the Information Fusion Centre

Navy Chiefs,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good afternoon to all. It is my pleasure to join so many from all over the world, all our friends here today to commemorate the Information Fusion Centre (IFC)'s 10th Anniversary.   

The Threat Environment Today

The IFC was born out of necessity in 2009 to help manage a full range of maritime security, or MARSEC threats in this region, and was a remarkable step forward in national and multilateral collaboration in MARSEC. The maritime domain, with its porous borders, is a prime target for perpetrators – hostile or otherwise. Given the vast expanse of maritime borders, transboundary MARSEC threats such as sea robbery, piracy, and smuggling can easily go undetected. Strategic maritime chokepoints and narrow trade corridors are conducive locations for terrorists to target, in order to disrupt international trade and the global economy. These threats are complicated by the fact that many different communities, stakeholders, and regulations are involved in safeguarding our waters.

You would recall, about 10 years ago, in 2008, terrorists made their way from Pakistan to Mumbai, India via boat to carry out coordinated terror attacks at several locations in Mumbai; at least 166 people were killed[1], one was a Singaporean. In our immediate region, an average of 1,700 maritime incidents per year were reported in the last few years. This is the tip of the iceberg, as there are more cases that go unreported, adding to the magnitude and complexity of the problem. 

Transnational Threats Require a Transnational Response

Today, the growing phenomenon of transnational connectivity means that perpetrators can more easily exploit maritime activities to conduct egregious, and potentially large-scale, transboundary crimes. And to be clear – transboundary threats require a transboundary response. While countries have different security priorities, we all have a common interest – to keep our seas safe. The nature of the maritime environment thus demands the need for a common maritime situation picture, where every stakeholder potentially holds different pieces of the information puzzle. For instance, the customs authorities have records on the movement of people and goods at their border; port authorities keep track of vessels' information; and enforcement agencies, such as the military, have intelligence of the situation out at sea. However, authorities operating in silos might not share such precious information promptly, and the information jigsaw has missing pieces.

Information-sharing continues to be relevant, and more critical than before. There are many "unknown unknowns" in the maritime environment such as unidentified vessels, unreported illegal activities, and smuggling routes. In fact, what happens in your immediate waters could invariably affect the security of mine. Information-sharing can bridge these information and time gaps, by providing actionable information to the correct parties, for operational responses. This is why the IFC was established ten years ago.

Since its inception, the IFC's model of integrated and close cooperation has worked well due to the strong support from partners all over the world, including from Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific. It is anchored on a multinational team of international liaison officers, with strong linkages to a wide range of partners, from navies to enforcement agencies and the shipping community. This allows the IFC to leverage its strong partnerships and cue timely responses to incidents. The IFC has since grown from strength to strength, from having six countries represented to the 18 partners we have today. The trust built over the years has translated to effective information-sharing, leading to enhanced maritime domain awareness, capability development, and prompt response.

An example of positive information-sharing outcomes was the arrest of the perpetrators and the rescue of hostages in the hijack of the oil-tanker, Hai Soon 12, in 2016. You saw that earlier in the video. The tanker was initially reported missing, but was eventually found in the Java Sea, albeit repainted as "Aiso". The suspects had switched off the ship's automatic identification system in their attempt to steal oil supplies, but prompt information-sharing among international stakeholders located in the IFC led to timely operational responses and a successful arrest within eight hours. One of the recent cases includes the arrest in April 2018 of STS 50, a stateless fishing vessel with multiple criminal records of illegal fishing, slavery, and identity frauds. It was constantly on the run and managed to evade authorities in various countries by assuming different identities. The Interpol and the French ILO provided information to the IFC, which worked together with various partners, and cued the Indonesian Navy, to capture the wanted vessel in the waters off northern Sumatra. This eventual arrest was possible because international stakeholders gathered to piece their collective information together. This highlighted the strength and necessity of transnational cooperation embodied in the IFC's success, and will continue to drive future missions.

I am glad IFC's collaborative model has strengthened information-sharing outcomes, and how more countries see value in such model. The model in fact reinforces itself, as our past ILOs returned to their home countries, set up similar centres, linking them back to the IFC, creating a larger network to enhance awareness and cooperation in the maritime domain.

Paving the Way Forward

While the IFC's model has served us well, we must continuously seek ways to remain and stay relevant. In today's digital age, information flows much faster and easier across multiple domains. The IFC's role in facilitating information sharing and providing actionable information to cue responses by regional and international navies, coast guards and other maritime agencies to deal with MARSEC threats, is thus more important than ever. The IFC must continue to fuse, sense-make and disseminate timely MARSEC information. As such, the IFC has been working to leverage technologies to better its day-to-day work and develop a next-generation Real-time Info-sharing System (IRIS) to facilitate information-sharing and collaboration. 

The Head of the IFC, LTC Gary Ow, will demonstrate the IRIS after my speech. The IRIS is essentially a one-stop portal that allows partners around the world to access the IFC's products such as the picture plots of the situation at sea. They can also leverage the IFC's infrastructure and linkages to form nodes linking to the IFC, which will in turn create an extensive network to attain a common and comprehensive maritime picture. This common platform will enable better and faster coordination, making cooperation easy and convenient. There is also a mobile version to enable information-sharing and coordination on the move – anytime, anywhere. 

Trust is Fundamental to Ensure our Seas are Safe

Even as technological innovations can facilitate this important work, the single most important element required for a successful mission in the maritime domain is trust among global stakeholders. MARSEC exercises like the Maritime Information Sharing Exercise and the ASEAN MARSEC Information-Sharing Exercise are good platforms for capacity and trust-building. Only with greater trust and support, can we better understand and respond to transnational challenges in the maritime domain. Your continued support is vital to successful outcomes against maritime threats and security issues.

As we celebrate the IFC's milestone today, I would like to thank all partners who have supported us over the past decade. The success of the IFC is only possible because of you. Moving ahead, I am confident of even closer collaboration and information-sharing, and we look forward to working with new partners. Together, we can achieve greater success in the years to come, realising "Safe and Secure Seas for All". Thank you and have a pleasant afternoon.


[1] According to reports by the British Broadcasting Corporation

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