From: Clarence Fernandez, Reuters
Published September 18, 2006 12:00 AM

Malacca Strait Meeting Asks Users to Help Littoral States

KUALA LUMPUR — Maritime officials from 31 nations gathered in the Malaysian capital on Monday to hammer out ways to offset the cost of ensuring the safety, security and environmental protection of Asia's busy Malacca Strait waterway.

At the three-day talks, authorities aim to match a wishlist of requirements from nations bordering the Strait, which carries 40 percent of world trade, with offers of assistance from nations and shipping groups that use the crucial sea lane.

Contributions could range from money to efforts such as the sharing of intelligence and equipment, technical cooperation and personnel training, said Efthimios Mitropoulos, head of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) which hosted the meet.

"One of the objectives of this meeting is to identify the needs of the littoral states, and then by involving the stakeholders who are in a position to assist, to see how best to satisfy those needs," he added.

The Malacca Strait snakes between Indonesia and Malaysia to link Asia with the Middle East and Europe. Every year, more than 50,000 merchant ships ply the waterway, which carries 80 percent of the energy supplies of Japan and China.

In August, Malaysia urged countries using the Strait to help pay for the cost of keeping it safe after the London insurance market lifted its war-risk rating on the waterway, but on Monday officials said they did not expect an agreement yet on payment of a fee to traverse the strait.

"We have not come on that basis of deciding on the fee, but I think we would leave it to the Strait's users to respond on that," Malaysian Deputy Prime Najib Razak told reporters, when asked how such a payment system might be structured.

Officials at Monday's meeting said the littoral states -- Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore -- would outline a framework of cooperation with user states and the shipping industry focusing on security, navigational safety and environmental protection.

"Indonesia supported the idea to have a certain mechanism for cooperation between littoral states and users of the Strait," said Eddy Pratomo, an Indonesian foreign affairs official.

"Such a mechanism could be dedicated to discuss and implement specific activities in the safety of navigation and environmental protection of the strait," he told the meeting.

The cooperative framework also envisions the establishment of a fund to maintain navigational aids in the strait, a Singapore official said.

"The burden of maintaining the Strait has to be shared by all users and not just the littoral states," said Choi Shing Kwok, permanent secretary at Singapore's transport ministry.

The removal of the Strait's war-risk rating recognised the littoral nations' success in combating piracy through joint maritime patrols and coordinated aerial surveillance, he added.

Piracy incidents reported in the Strait have fallen to three cases in the first six months of 2006, compared with 18 in 2005 and 38 in 2004, Malaysian officials said.

"What is important is that there is political will from the littoral states and user states to work together to put in place a strong infrastructure which will ensure safe, secure and environment-friendly navigation through the strait," Mitropoulos said.

Source: Reuters

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