Frequently Ask Question (FAQs) of Centre for the Straits of Malacca (CSOM)
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CSOM serves as a one-stop centre for information and research on Straits of Malacca maritime issues. Through well-researched and sound policy recommendations the Center aims to be the authoritative source and provide a vision for the littoral states in general and Malaysia in particular on issues pertaining to the security, environment and economics of this strategic waterway.
In addition to being important to the livelihood of the coastal communities, the 900-kilometre Straits of Malacca is the main sea lane of communication linking the Indian and Pacific oceans. It is one of the busiest waterways used for international navigation with more than 40 percent of global trade and 50 percent of oil shipments passing through it annually. In 2010 the number of transit vessel movements in the Straits reached almost 75,000 while cross traffic movements between Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra reached 30,000.
The heavy traffic movements are expected to increase significantly in the future and have serious implications to the littoral states of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore placing heavy demands on the environment, navigational safety, commercial and security management. This is especially since the Straits has limited width and depth in accommodating an infinite number and variety of vessels.
The heavy traffic volume in the straits has obvious navigational safety, environmental, security, and political implications to the littoral states. The ability to absorb the large number of vessels using the straits require sound management and mitigation policies and cooperation among the littoral states as well as compliance by user states to ensure unimpeded, safe, and efficient navigation while safeguarding the environment and economic livelihood of the coastal communities.
Although various traffic schemes have been implemented to improve navigation and safety in the straits it is critical that a comprehensive traffic management system be put in place to ensure that vessel incidents and accidents do not have serious adverse long-term impact on littoral states and jeopardize international navigation.
The natural physical characteristics of the Straits and its position as a strait used for international navigation require that safety, security and environmental issues be managed by the littoral states. Among the initiatives include the establishment of the Tripartite Technical Experts Group in the adoption of a common position on navigational safety, instituting the Traffic Separation Scheme, the maintenance of the 3.5-meter Under Keel Clearance for straits passage, the establishment of the Mandatory Ship Reporting System (STRAITREP), shore-based facilities to monitor ship transits or port visits such as the Vessel Traffic System, radar system, Differential Global Positioning System and Automatic Identification System (AIS) and establishing a regional mechanism to enhance maritime safety and environment protection under the Marine Electronic Highway project.
Under international law, the Straits of Malacca is considered a "straits used for international navigation" as specified under Part III (Articles 34 to 45) of UNCLOS 1982. To be governed by this regime, a strait must meet two basic geographical and functional criteria, that is, it must connect one part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone to another part of the high seas or an EEZ, and be used for international navigation. All ships and aircraft enjoy the right of unimpeded transit passage through such straits where transit refers to the freedom of navigation and over-flight solely for the purpose of continuous and expeditious passage through the straits. As long as it is used for international navigation, the straits are governed by this regime. Both criteria are based on the 1949 ruling of the International Court of Justice in the Corfu Channel Case.