Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Minister Saifuddin Abdullah at a joint press conference in Putrajaya on Thursday (Source: Today Online/Faris Mokhtar).

Singapore and Malaysia agree to revert to original port limits

Governments of Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to revert to their original port limits after both governments agreed to suspend the previous extensions of their port limits within a month from Thursday (March 14).

Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Singapore Dr Vivian Balakrishnan met in Putrajaya, Malaysia on 14 March 2019 in a follow-up meeting from their previous meeting in Singapore on 8 January 2019 where both Ministers outlined their commitment to resolve the maritime issues surrounding the port limits of both our countries.

In a press release on Thursday, the ministry said that the Ministers discussed the Working Group’s report on maritime issues surrounding the overlapping Johor Bahru Port Limits off Tanjung Piai and Singapore Port Limits off Tuas.

The report was submitted by the Working Group headed by the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, Dato’ Sri Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, Mr Chee Wee Kiong.

The ministers agreed that Malaysia and Singapore shall implement five recommendations in the report with effect from 14 March 2019, including to revert to their original port limits.

The ministers also agreed not to authorise and to suspend all commercial activities in the area, not to anchor any government vessels in the area, vessels of both countries will operate in the area based on international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The last recommendation is that both sides will set up a joint committee chaired by the permanent secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Chee Wee Kiong and Malaysia’s foreign ministry secretary-general Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob.

It is said that these measures taken by both countries shall be without prejudice to Malaysia’s and Singapore’s respective maritime boundary claims in the area.

“In the event that the committee is unable to reach an amicable solution on delimitation, Malaysia and Singapore may mutually agree to resort to an appropriate international third-party dispute settlement procedure on terms to be mutually agreed by the parties,” the ministries said.

Both ministers are said to have agreed that these measures were vital to de-escalate the situation on the ground and pave the way for maritime boundary delimitation of the area.

The ministry also said that these measures also demonstrate the commitment of both countries to work together to preserve a strong and positive bilateral relationship on the basis of equality and mutual respect and to resolve bilateral issues amicably in accordance with international law.

In a joint press conference in Putrajaya alongside his Malaysian counterpart, Dr Balakrishnan stated that both sides have differing views on the right to review water prices, saying, “Both of us have agreed that the Attorneys-General of Malaysia and Singapore will continue their discussions to better understand each other’s positions on the right to review the price of water under the 1962 agreement.”

While Dato’ Saifuddin said, “We also reaffirmed our commitment to resolve bilateral issues in a constructive manner and encourage ongoing diplomacy efforts to find an amicable solution.”

Earlier on Wednesday, a ministry’s spokesperson stressed that Singapore has been clear and consistent that its position is that Malaysia has lost the right to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement.

The ministry stated that during the meeting between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on 12 November 2018, both sides expressed their differing views on the right to review the price of water under the 62WA.

The Attorneys-General of Singapore and Malaysia also met once in December 2018 for this purpose. However, their discussions did not make progress as they were overshadowed by the issues that had arisen over the Johor Bahru Port Limits and the Seletar Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures.