On the heels of the agreement between Singapore and Malaysia to take steps to de-escalate territorial tensions between the two countries, comes the news of buoy-laying vessel Polaris has left Singapore’s waters and gone back to the port in Tanjung Pelepas. This means that only one Malaysian vessel remains in Singapore’s territorial waters.
The Polaris’ exit was reported by MarineTraffic, a global ship tracking site, which said that the vessel began to head back to Malaysia on January 5, Saturday, and arrived in Tanjung Pelepas an hour later, where it has stayed for the past five days, as reported by Channel NewsAsia.
Only one other Malaysian vessel for laying buoys that mark safety hazards and territory, the Pedoman, remains in Singapore’s territory.
Khaw Boon Wan, Singapore’s Transport Minister, said that the Polaris has been in the country’s territorial waters since December 3 of last year. The vessel is able to remain at sea for more 35 days without the need to restock supplies, and serves multiple purposes.
Last month, Khaw announced to the press that Malaysian vessels had carried out14 incursions in the preceding fortnight. These incursions occurred when Malaysia extended the limits in its Johor Bahru Port last October.
Malaysia had proposed that the two countries refrain from sending vessels in what it termed to be a “disputed area” on December 7. Singapore did not agree with this proposal, and said that “attempts to create facts on the ground add nothing to Malaysia’s legal case and are unhelpful for an amicable resolution of our maritime boundary issues”.
Tensions eased somewhat on Tuesday, January 8, when the Foreign Ministers of Singapore and Malaysia, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan and Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, respectively, met in Singapore to discuss maritime and airspace territorial disputes.
Both countries took steps to de-escalate the tension, with Malaysia agreeing to suspend its permanent Restricted Area over Pasir Gudang, while Singapore, in turn, agreed to suspend the implementation of the Instrument Landing System procedures for its Seletar Airport, for a period of one month.
As for the maritime dispute over the extension of Port Limits on Malaysia’s part, a working group of senior officials from both parties will be formed to discuss legal and operational matters and will report to both countries’ Foreign Ministers in two months.
A joint statement after the Foreign Ministers’ meeting on Tuesday said that Balakrishnan and Saifuddin “were pleased with the progress made at the meeting, and welcomed the positive steps that both sides had agreed on to move these matters forward in a calm and constructive manner.”