Malaysia Maritime Security and Blue Economy - By Nor Aini Binti Mohd Nordin & FAdm Dr Tay Yap Leong

-10th July 2023-

As a maritime nation, Malaysia places great importance on its maritime security. The country's strategic location in the heart of Southeast Asia makes it a vital hub for international trade and commerce. However, this also makes it vulnerable to various maritime security threats, including piracy, smuggling, and terrorism. The threat of piracy and armed robbery in the Malacca Strait and the east coast of Sabah is a significant concern for Malaysia's maritime security from a defence perspective. The Malacca Strait is a vital shipping lane, with over 80,000 vessels passing through it annually, making it a prime target for pirates and robbers.

The country has invested heavily in its naval capabilities, with a focus on acquiring modern and advanced naval vessels. The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) has taken measures to combat this threat by acquiring new warships, such as the Littoral Mission Ship (LMS), Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and the Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) to patrol Malaysia's waters effectively. These vessels are equipped with advanced radar and surveillance systems to detect and track suspicious vessels in the region. Apart from acquiring new warships, Malaysia has also invested in maritime surveillance systems to monitor its waters. The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) is responsible for monitoring and enforcing maritime laws and regulations in the country's waters. Hence, the MMEA has installed a network of radar and Automatic Identification System (AIS) stations to track vessels in its waters. The MMEA has also established a Maritime Intelligence Fusion Centre (MIFC) to analyse maritime intelligence and coordinate responses to maritime security threats. The MIFC is responsible for gathering and analysing intelligence on piracy, smuggling, terrorism, and other maritime security threats in the region, which enables the RMN and other law enforcement agencies to take appropriate actions to prevent these threats.

Malaysia has also been actively engaging in regional and international maritime security cooperation to enhance its maritime security capabilities. The country has participated in various joint maritime exercises with other countries, including the United States, Australia, and Singapore. The RMN has also conducted several joint patrols with other navies in the region to enhance its capabilities and better understand the maritime security environment in the region. The country is a member of the Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP), a joint initiative between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore to enhance maritime security in the Malacca Strait. Another initiative that Malaysia is a part of is the Trilateral Cooperative Arrangement (TCA), of which the other two members are Indonesia and the Philippines. While MSP patrols the Malacca Straits, the TCA members patrol both the Sulu Sea and Sulawesi Seas. Besides the maritime patrol, these countries also carry out maritime air patrol in the areas for intelligence gathering and sharing under the Eye in the Sky operation. Malaysia is also a member of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), a regional security pact that includes Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. The FPDA provides a framework for regional cooperation on maritime security and defence matters, which enables Malaysia to enhance its capabilities and develop more effective responses to maritime security threats.

Although many initiatives have been taken, piracy and armed robbery remain a significant threat in the region, particularly in the waters off the coast of Sabah. Illegal fishing and smuggling activities, for example, continue to pose significant challenges to Malaysia's maritime security. There is also a need to address the root causes of maritime security threats. Poverty, unemployment, and political instability in neighbouring countries are some of the factors that contribute to piracy, smuggling, and other maritime security threats. Malaysia needs to work with its neighbours to address these issues and promote regional stability and development. To address these challenges, Malaysia has adopted a multi-faceted approach to maritime security. This way, Malaysia is better equipped to protect its maritime interests and ensure the safety and security of its waters.

One of the approaches taken apart from those mentioned earlier includes strengthening its legal framework and enforcement mechanisms. The country has passed several laws, such as the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing, and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act, to combat financial crimes related to maritime security. Malaysia has also established a dedicated maritime court to prosecute offenders and ensure swift justice. Furthermore, Malaysia has been working with other countries in the region to establish a regional legal framework to combat maritime security threats. The country has played an active role in the development of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which aims to promote peaceful and cooperative relations among claimant states in the region. Malaysia has also participated in the negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed free trade agreement that includes 16 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The RCEP includes provisions for enhanced maritime security cooperation among member states.

Despite these efforts, Malaysia's maritime security faces several challenges that require attention and investment. One such challenge is the need to balance its economic interests with its security concerns. Malaysia's ports and shipping industry are critical to its economy, but they are also vulnerable to maritime security threats. The country needs to find a way to protect its maritime interests while ensuring the smooth flow of trade and commerce. Hence, the country has also been actively investing in the development of its human capital in the maritime sector through various training programs. One of the training programs is the Maritime Academy Malaysia (ALAM), which is a subsidiary of the MISC Group. ALAM offers a wide range of courses, from maritime safety and security to navigation and engineering. The academy aims to produce highly skilled and competent maritime professionals who can contribute to the development of Malaysia's maritime industry.

Besides ALAM, Malaysia has also implemented various initiatives to promote the development of the maritime industry, such as the Maritime Industry Development Plan (MIDP). The MIDP aims to promote the growth of the maritime industry by enhancing the competitiveness of local companies and creating more job opportunities in the sector. Furthermore, Malaysia has also been making efforts to improve the safety and security of its ports and harbours. The country has implemented the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, which is an international standard for the security of ships and port facilities. Malaysia has also established a Port Security Unit (PSU) to enhance the security of its ports and harbours.

In addition to the measures mentioned above, Malaysia has recognized the importance of the blue economy as a critical component of its maritime security strategy. The blue economy represents a sustainable and responsible approach to ocean resources management, acknowledging the essential role of marine ecosystems in the economic growth and development of the country. Malaysia has identified the blue economy as a key driver of economic growth and has implemented various initiatives to promote its development. Several key areas for development have been identified, including aquaculture, maritime tourism, marine biotechnology, and marine renewable energy. These sectors are critical to the growth of Malaysia's blue economy and have significant potential to generate economic benefits for the country.

The aquaculture industry, for example, has seen significant growth in recent years, with Malaysia becoming one of the top producers of aquaculture products in the Asia-Pacific region. The country has also been promoting the development of marine biotechnology, which involves the use of marine organisms to develop new medicines, cosmetics, and other products. Maritime tourism is another sector that has significant potential for growth in Malaysia. The country's beautiful coastline, diverse marine life, and rich cultural heritage make it an attractive destination for tourists. Malaysia has been promoting the development of sustainable tourism practices that conserve marine ecosystems while providing economic benefits to local communities. Marine renewable energy is another area of development that has the potential to contribute significantly to Malaysia's blue economy. The country has abundant marine energy resources, including tidal and wave energy, which can be harnessed to generate electricity.

In conclusion, Malaysia has made significant efforts to enhance its maritime security capabilities. Apart from acquiring naval vessels and establishing surveillance systems, the country has also been investing in the development of its human capital in the maritime sector. This has been done through training and education programs to improve the skills of maritime professionals and promote the growth of the maritime industry. Furthermore, Malaysia has been working to improve the safety and security of its ports and harbours through the implementation of various measures. These measures include the installation of advanced security systems and the implementation of strict security protocols. By doing so, Malaysia aims to prevent maritime crimes such as piracy and smuggling. Finally, Malaysia is also promoting the development of the blue economy. This is an important step towards achieving long-term sustainability in maritime security. The blue economy refers to the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, job creation, and environmental protection. By promoting the development of the blue economy, Malaysia is creating new opportunities for economic growth while ensuring the long-term sustainability of its maritime security.

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