Sunday, May 25, 2008

Pulau Batu Puteh decision: Fishermen can access Middle Rocks

By V. Anbalagan from the The Hague

MALAYSIAN fishermen can now operate freely in the waters off Middle Rocks following the International Court of Justice's ruling, which awarded the uninhabited outcropping to Malaysia, an academician said.

Pulau Batu Puteh is a granite island 137m long, with an average width of 60m and covering 8,560 sq metres at low tide. It is situated at the eastern entrance of the Straits of Singapore. It lies 25.5 nautical miles to the east of Singapore, 7.7 nautical miles to the south of Johor and 7.6 nautical miles to the north of the Indonesian island of Bintan. The Horsburgh lighthouse in Pulau Batu Puteh was built in 1851. Middle Rocks and South Ledge are the two maritime features closest to Pulau Batu Puteh. Middle Rocks is located 0.6 nautical miles to the south and consists of two small rocks about 250 metres apart that are above water and stand 0.6m to 1.2m high. South Ledge, at 2.2 nautical miles to the southwest of Pulau Batu Puteh, is a rock formation only visible at low tide.

Professor Dr Nik Anuar Nik Mahmud, senior lecturer with The Malay World and Civilisation Institute, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said the navy and marine police could patrol the area without hindrance.

He said the air force would also have access to the airspace.

"We have been denied entry to that locality since 1986 after Singapore took control of Pulau Batu Puteh (PBP) and the two maritime features. The republic has lost that exclusivity now," he told Malaysian journalists.

Nik Anuar was one of the researchers who assisted the Malaysian legal team to prepare its case before the ICJ.
The dispute over PBP started in 1980 when Malaysia published a map with the island lying within its territory.

In 1993, Singapore extended its claim to PBP by including two clusters of rocks nearby, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, after both nations failed to resolve the issue through bilateral means.

On Friday, the ICJ, in a 12-4 majority ruling, held that sovereignty over the island belonged to Singapore.

In a 15-1 majority ruling, the court held that Malaysia had ownership of Middle Rocks.

The court, in a 15-1 majority ruling, also stated that sovereignty over South Ledge belonged to the "state in the territorial waters of which it is located".

South Ledge is a rock formation only visible at low tide.

The court said it could not decide on the status of South Ledge because Malaysia and Singapore had only asked it to arbitrate on the matter of sovereignty separately for each of the three maritime features.

"The court observes that it has not been mandated by the parties to draw the line of delimitation with respect to the territorial waters of Malaysia and Singapore in the area in question," it said.

Nik Anuar said a careful reading of the judgment would imply that sovereignty over South Ledge also belonged to Malaysia. This was because South Ledge is only 1.7 nautical miles south of Middle Rocks.

"It is within the internationally held 12 nautical miles radius limitation to be part of Malaysian territorial waters."

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim said it would appear that Malaysia would have sovereignty over South Ledge.

Co-agent and former Malaysian ambassador to the Netherlands Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin said the ruling had contained Singapore from undertaking any activities unilaterally.

"She has a neighbour now because the court has recognised that Malaysia has sovereignty over Middle Rocks."

She expressed hope both nations could resolve the outstanding issues.

During the oral hearing last November, Malaysia's agent, Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Mohamad, said Singapore wanted to redefine her status from being a mere "lighthouse operator" by claiming sovereignty over PBP and the two maritime features.

The ruling by the ICJ affirmed Malaysia's stand that the Johor sultanate had the undisputed title over PBP and the surrounding areas from time immemorial - NST

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