PostHeaderIcon Singapore Proposes Maritime Security Exercises for Asian Security Forum

Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean said in a speech to a seminar on maritime security cooperation tha Asian militaries and their counterparts outside the region "collectively" address security threats in the region's waters. "It would be useful for the ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum) to move beyond dialogue on maritime security and work towards conducting an ARF maritime security exercise in the near future," Teo said. ARF groups 24 countries comprising the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and 14 dialogue partners, including the United States, China, Russia, Japan, Australia and the European Union. The group meets annually to discuss regional and global security issues as well as "confidence-building measures" aimed at forestalling conflicts. Southeast Asia hosts two of the world's most important commercial shipping lanes -- the Malacca Strait and the Singapore Strait bordered by Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. About half of the world's oil supplies and one fourth of global commerce pass through these narrow waterways. Military officials and security analysts have called for increased patrols in the area amid fears that ships passing through the straits are vulnerable targets for terrorists bent on crippling world trade. Armed piracy is also a major problem in some parts of the Malacca Strait, and the International Maritime Bureau reported on Wednesday that armed assailants had attacked a Malaysian tugboat in the waterway on Monday. The Malaysian captain and the Indonesian chief officer were kidnapped in the incident, according to the bureau. Teo acknowledged that the Five Power Defence Arrangements, an alliance involving Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Britain, had already begun conducting martime security drills last year. Another exercise involving 22 navies in the Western Pacific region will also carry out an exercise on maritime security in May. "These are all very positive developments that build confidence, enhance capabilities, and also create a framework for inter-operability that can be useful for future contingencies," Teo said. However he emphasised that much more could be done through the ARF. Senior officers from the navy, coast guard, port authorities, shipping lines and law enforcement agencies from the ARF member nations are attending the two and half-day conference in Singapore this week, most of which will be held behind closed doors. The head of the ARF unit at ASEAN's Jakarta based secretariat, M.C Abad, who was attending the conference, told AFP the gathering was a positive step in improving regional maritime security. "By bringing the frontline agencies together to tackle and promote maritime security, ARF demonstrates that it has gone beyond being a forum for confidence building into an inter-governmental framework pursuing common security," Abad said. "Activities like this demonstrate ARF's relevance in responding head-on to the current security issues of the day." mba/kma/lh