Singapore–Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, made a strong statement in Parliament on Tuesday, February 26, asserting uncategorically that “we will not allow any foreign government vessels to assert any authority in our waters.”
Dr Balakrishnan was responding to a question from Nominated MP Walter Theseira. Mr Theseira had inquired about the collision between Greek bulk carrier Pireas, and a Malaysian ship, Polaris, which occurred a few weeks ago, on the afternoon of February 9, in the territorial waters of Singapore off of Tuas.
The Greek carrier was leaving Singapore and was en route to Tanjung Pelepas in Johor, the Pireas’ next destination. The Polaris is a vessel under the Malaysian Marine Department, which uses it to mark territory or safety hazards.
After examining the collision, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) decided that the collision was not a “very serious marine casualty”, according to the Foreign Affairs Minister, since under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Marine Casualty Investigation Code, the collision could not be classified as a serious one.
He also said in Parliament that the Pireas was then allowed by the MPA to go on to its next destination.
He added that since the Pireas was in the territorial waters of the Republic, it was not detained by Malaysian authorities after the incident.
Another question that Dr Theseira asked the Foreign Affairs Minister was concerning what mariners should do in the event that they are given instructions by Malaysian ships while in Singapore’s territorial waters.
The Associate Profesor asked, “For example … if they are given instructions from Malaysian government vessels, what should they do? What would our forces do if they observe attempts to give such instructions in the area?”
Dr Balakrishnan replied that vessels that pass through the territorial waters of the Republic should follow the MPA’s instructions. In the case of the Pireas and the Polaris, the waters where the vessels collided were within Singapore’s port limits.
“Any foreign government vessels have no locus standi to be issuing any instructions. If there are any attempts to assert authority or take any unauthorised actions, our agencies and our vessels and our forces will take appropriate measures,” Dr Balakrishnan said.
When the Pireas and the Polaris collided, the MPA immediately investigated the incident, saying it was “deeply concerned” about the risks being posed by unauthorised vessels “parking and passing” in Singapore’s territorial waters.
According to the MPA, “The presence of unauthorised vessels in Singapore port limits can cause confusion for the international shipping community and threaten navigational safety in our waters.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made an official statement regarding the incident when it occurred:
“The collision between MV Pireas and Malaysian Government vessel Polaris took place in Singapore Territorial Waters off Tuas, and in an area that goes beyond Malaysia’s territorial claim of 1979, which Singapore has never recognised.
Singapore reiterates its call for Malaysia to withdraw its vessels from the area, as the persistent presence of its vessels clearly poses a threat to safety of navigation in the area.
As we have said previously, Malaysia will be responsible for any untoward situations on the ground that arises from continued deployment of its vessels into this area. The Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore is currently investigating the incident.