Nov 22, 2004

IMO moves on Malacca Strait security

IMO is to convene a high-level conference to consider how to improve enhancing safety, security and environmental protection in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. It will take place in Jakarta, Indonesia, probably in July 2005.

The go ahead for the gathering was given at last week's 93 session of the IMO Council.

The Council also urged continued efforts to enhance safety, security and environmental protection in the Strait of Malacca.

IMO is trying to promote its "Marine Electronic Highway" as part of these efforts.

The Jakarta event is envisaged as a practical demonstration of the seriousness IMO attributes to the protection of shipping lanes of strategic significance.

At 520 nautical miles in length and, in places, extremely narrow, the Malacca Strait links the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea and provides the artery through which a huge proportion of global trade is carried. Tankers and bulk carriers move vast quantities of oil, coal, iron ore and minerals to the manufacturing centers of southeast and northeast Asia, while millions of containers flow in the opposite direction to feed consumer markets all over the world. Some 50,000 ship movements carrying as much as one quarter of the world's commerce and half the world's oil pass through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore each year.

Any serious disruption to the flow of maritime traffic through this channel would present ships with a detour of around 600 miles. Higher freight rates and costlier goods and commodities would result. That is why the preservation of its integrity is such an important issue.

With southeast Asia still, unfortunately, recording the highest number of pirate attacks globally, there have been suggestions that an upturn in crew abductions could signal a move by terrorists to train themselves in operating and navigating large commercial vessels--mirroring the actions of the 9/11 terrorists.

As a natural choke point, the Malacca Strait has been a haven for pirates for centuries. Today its shallow reefs, innumerable small islands and the greatly reduced speed of transiting ships due to traffic volume create a perfect environment for those who would wish to board ships illegally, or, once in control of ships, to block the passage of others.

The Marine Electronic Highway project aims to use the very latest information technologies available to shipping, such as electronic charts, automatic identification systems, highly accurate satellite-based positioning systems, ship-shore data communication, environmental mapping and databases and meteorological information to create a regional information network that would provide a platform for the management of safe and efficient navigation through the Singapore and Malacca Straits.

It could also play a major part in a number of activities that have a bearing on the marine and coastal environments, namely environmental monitoring, protection and management, emergency response and risk/damage assessment.

IMO is a co-sponsor of the project along with the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank. Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are the participating countries within the project and other organizations such as International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) are taking an active involvement.

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