Malaysian Transport Minister Calls for Heightened Focus on Maritime Highway Security

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Credit: via Seatrade Maritime

The security of sea lanes took centre stage at the Langkawi International Maritime Aerospace (LIMA) Exhibition 2023, amidst escalating geopolitical tensions.

Security of sea lines

During the International Maritime Conference, Malaysian Minister of Transport, YB Loke Siew Fook, emphasized the significance of ensuring the security of sea lines of communication for Southeast Asia’s economic growth and regional prosperity. He expressed concerns over the lack of attention given to preserving a safe and unobstructed maritime highway for trade. Geopolitical tensions and overlapping interests were cited as factors leading to shipping disruptions and economic slowdown. The Minister highlighted the impact of conflicts, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the war between Russia and Ukraine, on maritime transportation globally, including Malaysia. These disruptions served as a reminder of the profound effect conflicts have on the global economy. Minister Loke stressed the importance of nations being prepared to address pressing issues to ensure the safe passage of ships, as international trade heavily relies on it.

Geopolitical tensions

Malaysia’s strategic location along the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, as well as the South China Sea, makes it vulnerable to geopolitical tensions. With 70,000 to 80,000 vessel transits annually, the closure of the Singapore and Malacca Straits would result in an estimated cost of $65 million per week, which would rise to $120 million if shipping traffic had to divert via the Lombok Strait. If all three routes were closed, forcing ships to detour around Australia, the additional cost would escalate to $650 million per week. The conflict in Ukraine has led to changes in supply routes, impacting the transportation of goods like grain. Geopolitical pressures have also given rise to the “dark fleet,” involved in illicit activities such as conducting ship-to-ship transfers of oil cargo while turning off AIS to evade detection. A recent explosion and fire on the tanker Pablo in the South China Sea, off the coast of Malaysia, was attributed to the activities of the dark fleet. The challenge lies in ensuring compliance with regulations when shipowners turn off AIS, raising questions on enforcement methods.

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Source: Seatrade Maritime