Beware : Pedra Branca is not an island
Malaysia should remain cautious about Singapore’s land reclamation work at Pulau Batu Puteh, also known as Pedra Branca, to ensure the latter does not extend its territorial boundaries.
Geostrategist Associate Professor Dr Azmi Hassan said Pedra Branca was a rock without any territorial waters and Singapore’s sovereign rights to develop the area was limited to a 50m radius.
“Pedra Branca is a rock. A rock, similar to a shoal or a reef, does not have any territorial waters.
“Islands, on the contrary, have 12-nautical mile territorial waters and the boundaries can be extended to 200 nautical miles under the Exclusive Economic Zone provision of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982.
“In the South China Sea, China has been reclaiming several reefs, like the Mischief Reef and the Fiery Cross Reef, near the Spratly Islands.
“A reclaimed reef or rock cannot be considered as an island.
“So I hope Singapore does not have similar intentions like China when it conducts reclamation work at Pedra Branca,” he told the New Straits Times.
Azmi questioned Singapore’s rationale for reclaiming Pedra Branca, which is supposedly to upgrade the Horsburgh Lighthouse to boost its maritime security.
“Modern ships use digital navigation aids and the lighthouse is of minimal use in guiding boats and ships.
“In other words, the lighthouse is obsolete.
“In my view, Wisma Putra should monitor the development and lodge a diplomatic protest with Singapore.”
On July 5, Singapore’s National Development Ministry gave the green light to reclamation works within 0.5 nautical miles of Pedra Branca and in its territorial waters.
The ministry said the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was aware of the reclamation plans when awarding the rock to Singapore in 2008.
In May 2008, ICJ awarded sovereignty over Pedra Branca to Singapore, but ruled that Batuan Tengah (Middle Rocks), 1km away from Pedra Branca, belonged to Malaysia.
The court said sovereignty over Tubir Selatan (South Ledge) belonged to the state in whose territorial waters it lies.
Since August 2017, the Middle Rocks has hosted the Abu Bakar Maritime Base to safeguard Malaysia’s sovereign territory and waters and also to conduct marine scientific research.
He said the reclamation could affect shipping and navigational security since the sea passage between Teluk Ramunia and Pedra Branca was very narrow.
He also said it could also trigger environmental consequences.
Senior Fellow at Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Dr Oh Ei Sun, said the reclamation exercise was not a “hostile act” against Malaysia and should be seen as an opportunity for maritime security cooperation between both countries.
“As long as the reclamation exercise does not extend Singapore’s territorial sea, it is perfectly within Singapore’s right to do so.
“Singapore feels the need to step up its security presence in the area, because apart from being strategic, the area is plagued with piracy issues.
“In my view, Malaysia and Singapore, in the spirit of neighbourliness, should take this opportunity to patrol the area between the Straits of Malacca and South China Sea together to curb piracy.
“At the moment, it is not necessary for Wisma Putra to launch a diplomatic protest.”, Nst
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