First phase of East Asia’s Marine Electronic Highway takes off

First Meeting of the Project Steering Committee on Development of a Regional Marine Electronic Highway in the East Asian Seas held on 19 and 20 March in Malaysia

The first steps to creating an innovative Marine Electronic Highway in East Asia have been taken, following a meeting in Malaysia to launch the development of the Marine Electronic Highway Project, which aims to create an integrated system of physical infrastructure, hardware and software, processes and resources to improve the safety of navigation and the prevention of marine pollution in the busy seas of the area.

An agreement to grant US$350,000 for the first phase of the development of a regional Marine Electronic Highway in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, was signed earlier in March by the World Bank - acting as an implementing agency of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) - and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the executing agency. This first phase is intended to lead to a multi-million dollar project to fully develop and implement the Marine Electronic Highway.

"This project is the first of its kind," said Mr. Koji Sekimizu, Director of the Marine Environment Division of IMO, in his opening statement to the First Project Steering Committee Meeting of the GEF/WB/IMO MEH project, held from 19 to 20 March in Putrajaya, Malaysia, at the invitation of the Government of Malaysia.

The meeting was attended by delegations from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as representatives from the World Bank, the International Maritime Organization and PEMSEA (Partnership for Environmental Management in the Seas of East Asia). Observers from the World Meteorological Organization, Japanese Coast Guard and Canadian Coast Guard also attended.

Captain Raja Malik Saripulazan, Director-General of the Marine Department of Peninsular Malaysia, speaking on behalf of Y. BHG. Dato’ Zaharah Shaari, Secretary-General for the Ministry of Transport for Malaysia, emphasised the economic and maritime importance of the Malacca Straits to the three littoral States.

"Implementation of the MEH project will complement the efforts taken by the littoral States in enhancing safety of navigation and the prevention and control of marine pollution in the Straits," he said.

"It is envisaged that with the inception of the MEH, safety and efficiency of navigation will increase and manoeuvring a VLCC in the Straits will no longer be a nightmare to shipmasters," Captain Raja Malik Saripulazan said. He also strongly urged the private sector, which will derive great benefit from the MEH project, to come forward and support its inception.

Essentially, the Marine Electronic Highway will be build upon a network of electronic nautical charts (ENCs) using Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS) and environmental management systems into an integrated system in the region, allowing the maximum of information to be made available to both ships and shipmasters as well as shore-based users such as vessel traffic control systems.

The integrated system - which would include electronic nautical charts, positioning systems, automatic ship identification (AIS) transponders as well as provision of meteorological, oceanographic and navigational information - will provide an essential tool for marine pollution prevention, marine pollution control, marine environmental planning and management, as well as safety of navigation.

The Marine Electronic Highway Project is therefore an integrated system of innovative technological tools, which also involves intergovernmental and intersectoral co-operative mechanisms for maritime safety and protection of the marine environment. The system will also include financial, legal and institutional mechanisms that will allow it to be fully functional, efficient and sustainable.

The first phase of the project will involve a demonstration in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. Mr. Sekimizu emphasised that Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore will be fully involved in the implementation of the project and the views of user States and the shipping community must also be taken into account. He stated that during the development of the project it might be appropriate to seek the views of IMO Member States and the international shipping community before moving to the next phase of the project. He added that IMO fully supported the project.

Project Objective

The East Asia Regional MEH Project will have three phases

Phase 1  -  A prototype system in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore;

Phase 2  -  Network construction in priority waters from the Straits to Japan; and

Phase 3  - Completion of the entire network with emphasis on oil and gas transportation routes.

The MEH Project will commence with the implementation of Phase 1 to be completed within a one-year period.

The two objectives of Phase 1 are


To reach consensus amongst interested stakeholders on the development and implementation of a regional MEH; and


To implement a regional MEH, commencing in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore which will be an essential tool for marine pollution prevention, marine pollution control, marine environmental planning and management, as well as safety of navigation.

Key Activities and Outputs

Key activities:

  • Steering Committee establishment;

  • National consensus building/National Action Plan development;

  • Regional Action Plan consolidation for a regional MEH starting in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore;

  • Regional consensus building/workshop on the proposed Regional Action Plan, implementation strategy, partnership arrangements, administrative mechanisms and the start-up phase in the Straits;

  • GEF Project Brief preparation; and

  • GEF Project Brief approval and endorsement by the GEF National Focal Points in Indonesia and Malaysia

The expected outputs are the following:

1.    Reports of the two Steering Committee Meetings; reports of the two national workshops; report of the plenary regional workshop;

2.    National Action Plans on the development of the Straits' MEH and a Regional Action Plan for a regional MEH with a first phase in the Malacca and Singapore Straits;

3.    Consensus among participating countries and other stakeholders on the design of a "managing tool", an implementation/operational plan for the first phase, an evaluation of incremental cost, identification of co-financing, and an initial plan for moving forward from Phase 1 to Phase 2;

4.    Supporting documentation; and

5.    A Project Brief, detailing the strategy, outputs, activities, coordination mechanisms, implementation schedules and partnership requirements to develop, construct and operate the Regional MEH with a first phase in the Malacca and Singapore Straits.

Strategies and Approach

The MEH Project will have three key elements, namely, maritime safety, environment protection and management, and sustainable financing. Within maritime safety, precision navigation constitutes the backbone of the marine electronic highway. Four key issues are fundamental to the advancement of the MEH technology to a first phase demonstration in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, namely:

1.     Information technology, and specifically the integration of existing technologies and capacities within the three littoral States with new and innovative technologies while focusing on the specific needs of users within the three countries as well as other users of the Straits;

2.     Socio-economic benefit to the governments, industry/private sectors, and the civil societies in general as a consequence of the proposed MEH technology;

3.     Financing mechanisms/investment potential, and the establishment of interagency, intergovernmental and inter-sectoral partnerships as vehicles for successfully developing, financing, constructing and operating the MEH as a self-sustaining, revenue-generating enterprise in the Straits; and

4.     Institutional arrangements, with agreement among participating parties on the administrative, legal, financial and operational aspects of a "managing tool", which will be responsible for implementing the first phase MEH project in the Straits.

First Project Steering Committee outcome

The First Project Steering Committee was organized by IMO and was co-chaired by Y.M. Raja Malik Saripulazan, Director-General of the Maritime Department of Peninsular Malaysia, and Mr. Sudariyono, Director for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems of Indonesia. Captain Wilson Chua from Singapore was elected as Rapporteur.

The meeting successfully achieved its main objectives, which were:

  • the formal establishment of the project Steering Committee;
  • commitments from the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore regarding the implementation of the project;
  • the adoption of the terms of reference of the project coordinator and the technical consultant;
  • the approval of a work plan and timetable:

            National Workshops July/ August 2001

            Regional meetings September 2001

            Regional Workshops November 2001

            Second Project Steering Committee Meeting January 2002.