Tensions between Singapore and Malaysia rekindled in the wake of Polaris-Piraeus collision in disputed waters off Tuas

The collision between Malaysian government vessel Polaris and Greek vessel Piraeus in the disputed waters off Tuas on Saturday (9 Feb). Source: Singapore Police Force

Tensions between Singapore and Malaysia are on the rise again as Singapore has, once again, firmly called upon Malaysia to remove the latter’s vessels from the disputed waters off Tuas in the wake of a collision between the Malaysian vessel Polaris and Greece-registered bulk carrier Piraeus on Saturday (9 Feb).

In a statement released on Sunday (10 Feb), a spokesperson on behalf of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said: “The collision between MV Piraeus 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.

The MFA spokesperson added: “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 arise from continued deployment of its vessels into this area,” warned MFA.

The MFA spokesperson also noted that the collision is currently being investigated by the Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore.

Malaysian daily New Straits Times reported Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) as saying on Sunday (9 Feb) that Piraeus was en route from Singapore to its next port of call at Tanjung Pelepas prior to the incident.

MPA added that it is “deeply concerned that the presence of unauthorised vessels in Singapore port limits can cause confusion for the international shipping community and threaten navigational safety” in Singapore’s waters.

Malaysia’s Marine Department (Jabatan Laut Malaysia or JLM), however, reportedly contradicted the statement given by Singapore’s MPA, stating that the collision took place within the Malaysian territorial waters.

NST reported that Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed its commitment in taking appropriate measures to safeguard its territorial integrity, interests and safe navigation of vessels”.

JLM director-general Baharin Abdul Hamid told Bernama: “The incident took place in the Johor Bahru Port waters … There is no issue of intruding into Singapore’s territorial waters.

“We have assigned Polaris [in the maritime area] to monitor the safety of the vessels taking voyage in the area. That is our port,” he affirmed.

Datuk Baharin added the Polaris, a JLM multi-purpose buoy tender vessel, remains stationary in the area, while Piraeus had made its way to the Tanjung Bin jetty for clearance purposes.

“During communication with MV Polaris, MV Piraeus responded that it will steer clear of MV Polaris.

“Despite the clear communication and definitive instructions given, the collision happened on first contact until both vessels were cleared of each other at 2.36 p.m,” the Ministry said.

On Saturday (9 Feb), Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry declared that JLM had “detained the Greek vessel and crew for purposes of a preliminary inquiry as per Section 334(1) of the Malaysian Shipping Ordinance 1952”.

JLM, concluded Wisma Putra, “strongly advises ships in Johor Bahru Port Limits located in Malaysian Territorial Waters to exercise caution to avoid untoward incidents in the said waters” as a result of the incident.

As of today, MV Polaris is still located at its position in the contested waters.

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