Port security around Singapore critical to world economy.
It's the home of the busiest port in the world, and it's not uncommon to see Several hundred container ships stacked up in neat rows Stretching out dozens of miles from the downtown skyline. The Malacca and Singapore Straits also see about 1,400 vessels pass through their narrow channels each day.
For a small nation with no natural resources or agricultural industry, maritime and port security are essential to the nation's economic well-being. And security in the straits has global implications, experts say
Col. Tay Klan Seng, head of naval operations for the Royal Singapore Navy, described complications similar to those encountered in U.S. ports.
"The best thing we can do is to work together not just between agencies, but across boundaries," he said at the Global Security Asia Forum here.
Maritime security is the responsibility of three agencies in Singapore--the navy, the port authority and the coast guard.
Like his U.S. counterparts, Singapore is attempting to increase the awareness of what ships are in its waters, what they are carrying and where they are headed.
Ships weighing more that 300 gross tons are equipped with the automatic identification system--as they are in the U.S. waters. AIS transmits a signal identifying the ship and its bearing. However, Singapore has gone one step farther and installed similar transmitters in ships weighing less than 300 tons. The program identifies fishing vessels, pleasure craft, tugs and other small boats. This data is collected along with an extensive network of shore-based radars.
"The challenge of course, is to collect seemingly insignificant data and placing them into a coherent situational picture," Tay said.
Singapore broke ground in March on the Maritime Security Center, which will open in about two years and be staffed with representatives of the coast guard, port authority and navy. It will be a "one-stop information center where a 24/7 maritime picture will be coordinated," Tay said.
Meanwhile, deterrence of terrorist attacks is a large part of the plan. Sea marshal security teams with members of the navy and coast guard carry out random boardings. The two services also do selective escorts for ships with hazardous cargo.
The Malacca and Singapore Straits carry over 30 percent of the world's commerce and 80 percent of the oil headed for China and Japan from the Middle East.
An attack on its sea lanes would send ripple effects through the world economy, said Mikkal Herberg, director of the Asian energy security program at the National Bureau of Asian Research.
Eleven million barrels of oil per day travel through the straits and that number is expected to double to 22 million by 2030, he said at a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars lecture in Washington. Liquefied natural gas shipments will see similar jumps.
While little of the oil and gas is headed for the U.S. market, the U.S. Navy is active in patrolling the waters, he said. Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea all depend on the fuel shipped through the straits.
"The security of the Malacca Straits is a complex issue that can only be tackled with the cooperation of the regional players," Tay said.
Singapore partners with Indonesia and Malaysia to provide a constant naval presence in the straits. The three nations also use aircraft to keep watch on the waters.
There are several scenarios where terrorists would use the waters to launch an attack. One would involve destroying a ship and blocking sea lanes. Hijacking a small boat and sneaking into Singapore's port to launch an attack is another possibility.
Herberg said U.S. Pacific Command made overtures to the three regional partners to join in patrols but was "roundly rebuked" by Malaysia and Indonesia, who saw the request as a threat to their sovereignty. Singapore was more open to the idea, he added.
Still, the U.S. Navy dominates the world's sea lanes, which causes much consternation in China, which is decades away from building its own blue water navy, Herberg said.
In a Taiwan war scenario, the United States could potentially stop oil shipments in the straits from reaching China, he said.
Meanwhile, the stepped up patrols have sharply reduced piracy and sea robbery in the region, Tay said.
Catherine Zara Raymond, an analyst based in Singapore with the Travel Risks consulting group, said scenarios where pirates and terrorists link up to create havoc in the straits are not beyond the realm of possibility.
However, "there is little evidence to suggest that there has been a blurring of the lines between piracy and terrorism," she said at the Woodrow Wilson center.
Terrorist groups in the region such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines and the Jamaah Islamiyah in Indonesia have shown interest in attacking U.S. naval ships, and have used the seas to conduct operations such as kidnapping tourists. If the price was right, they could enlist criminals with knowledge of the seas to help them launch an attack.
Blowing up and sinking a ship would not block the straits, she noted. Their narrowest point is slightly more than half a kilometer wide, so most ships would still be able to pass, she said.
Mining the straits, however, could potentially be devastating. Even if terrorists spoofed such an attack, the regional navies' minesweeping capabilities are not robust. And it could take days for a navy such as the United States' to reach the area to ensure the lanes are clear.
"The impact on the region's economies could be severe," she said.
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|Date:||Jun 1, 2007|
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