The following article is submitted to the editorial of MalaysiaGazette by Muhammad Syafiq Afham bin Hamzah.
Losing Pedra Branca was a huge slap in the face and with recent revelation that 2 subsidiaries of our crown jewel, PETRONAS have reportedly been seized in regard to the defunct Sulu sultanate claims really rubbed salt into the wound.
As Iskandar Puteri UMNO Division Committee Member & Member of Dewan Muda Johor, I felt that it is important for me to voice out regarding this matter which is close to my heart. Beyond national pride, Johor’s Grey Area is located strategically at the entrance of Straits of Johor and have important economic value to the locals as well as Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP). The disputed area is approximately 11.5 km2 which is a large
area and significantly bigger than the area of Pedra Branca.
The boundary lines in the maritime map were poorly defined and there are several revisions notably in 1979, 1995, 1999 and 2018. The area became harder to define as Singapore had artificial land reclamation project in 2002 where it encroached well inside 1979 Malaysia claim.
The area is vital for local fishermen especially those living in villages close by such as Kampung Pendas, Kampung Pok & Kampung Sungai Melayu and there are also indigenous people that reside in Kampung Orang Asli Simpang Arang that have fished in the area for centuries so the stakes are high as they are the people whose livelihoods depend on the area.
Beyond that, the area is strategically important as it is adjacent to the Strait of Malacca. There are many Ship to Ship (STS) activities conducted in the area which is not only important to the local economy but to the federal coffer through tax collections.
On 12 January 2019, The Straits Times reported that both countries agreed to establish a working group to study the legal and operational issues relating to the maritime dispute. Mr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister said that on 14 March 2019, both countries agreed for a temporary détente by reverting to the old port limits however mentioned that Singapore will continue to patrol within the area.
It is reported by local fishermen and vessel Captains that Singapore is currently administrating the area and have placed coast guard vessels within the area and will request any Malaysian vessel to move away shall it enter the disputed area. The vessels that are using the area for navigational purpose are required to ask permission from the
Singapore Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) operated by Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) in order to enter the area beforehand. This signifies that Singapore is currently in charge of the area and might be a basis for future claim that they exercise acts of sovereignty without any protest from Malaysia similar to the Pedra Branca case.
Although I understand that we must be extremely cautious to not let this issue affect our important bilateral relations, it is still important that we stay firm and on the qui vive to the issue while the officials work to find an amicable solution for all parties involved. This issue must be treated with utmost urgency and shall be reported back to the public from time to time of its progress as it involves our sovereignty. We can’t afford to lose another
inch of our rightful land that are indispensable to the Bangsa Johor and Malaysia as a whole.
Muhammad Syafiq Afham bin Hamzah
Iskandar Puteri UMNO Division Committee Member
Member of Dewan Muda Johor
Editorial note: The views expressed are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysia Gazette.