IMO to take Straits initiative

Council - 93rd session: 15-19 November 2004

IMO is to convene a high-level conference to consider ways and means of enhancing safety, security and environmental protection in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. The event, which is to take place in Jakarta, Indonesia, probably during the second half of 2005, received the go-ahead from the Organization's Council during its 93rd session which met 15-19 November 2004 at the IMO's London headquarters.

The Council also urged the Organization and the Secretary-General, in co operation with the littoral States concerned, to continue their efforts to enhance safety, security and environmental protection in the Strait of Malacca to ensure that the Strait continues to remain safe, secure and open to international navigation, through awareness-increasing; information sharing; personnel training; capacity-building; and technical co operation. In seeking attainment of these objectives, the intention will also be to promote the IMO's visionary Marine Electronic Highway project and to seek advice from the participants on how to configure it in a manner that can best serve the cause of maritime security in addition to its original goals of enhancing safety and environmental protection in the Straits.

The event is envisaged as a practical demonstration of the seriousness IMO attributes to the protection of shipping lanes of strategic significance and importance and will serve as a vehicle for identifying issues which need to be addressed. It will enable the littoral and user States, other stakeholders and the Organization to develop and put in place appropriate action plans. The IMO initiative to seek an international approach on a delicate and sensitive issue such as the protection of the Malacca Strait against terrorism has also been welcomed by the United Nations General Assembly which, in a resolution on Oceans and Law of the Sea adopted on 10 November 2004, encourages the Secretary-General of IMO to continue work on the issue in collaboration with the littoral States and user States.

Background information
The Straits of Malacca and Singapore have been identified by IMO as an indicative example highlighting various issues relevant to the security discussion of shipping lanes in general. At 520 nautical miles in length and, in places, extremely narrow, the Malacca Strait links the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea and provides the artery through which a huge proportion of global trade is carried. Tankers and bulk carriers move vast quantities of oil, coal, iron ore and minerals to the manufacturing centres of south-east and north-east Asia, while millions of containers flow in the opposite direction to feed consumer markets all over the world. Some 50,000 ship movements carrying as much as one quarter of the world's commerce and half the world's oil pass through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore each year.

It is quite clear that any serious disruption to the flow of maritime traffic through this channel would have a widespread and far-reaching detrimental effect, presenting ships with a detour of around 600 miles and, without doubt, higher freight rates and costlier goods and commodities as a result. That is why the preservation of its integrity is such an important issue.

With south-east Asia still, unfortunately, recording the highest number of pirate attacks globally, there have been suggestions that an upturn in crew abductions could signal a move by terrorists to train themselves in operating and navigating large commercial vessels - mirroring the actions of the 9/11 terrorists. Being a natural "choke point" for shipping, the Malacca Strait has been a haven for pirates for centuries, and today its shallow reefs, innumerable small islands and the fact that the sheer volume of traffic often forces ships to transit at greatly reduced speeds makes the area particularly vulnerable and thus the perfect environment for those who would wish to board ships illegally, or, once in control of ships, to block the passage of others.

The Marine Electronic Highway project aims to use the very latest information technologies available to shipping, such as electronic charts, automatic identification systems, highly accurate satellite-based positioning systems, ship-shore data communication, environmental mapping and databases and meteorological information to create a regional information network that would provide a platform for the management of safe and efficient navigation through the Singapore and Malacca Straits.

It could also play a major part in a number of activities that have a bearing on the marine and coastal environments, namely environmental monitoring, protection and management, emergency response and risk/damage assessment.

IMO is a co-sponsor of the project along with the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank. Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are the participating countries within the project and other organizations such as International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) are taking an active involvement.

2005 World Maritime Day theme
The Council endorsed the proposal of Secretary-General Mitropoulos that the theme for World Maritime Day 2005 would be "International Shipping - Carrier of World Trade". The theme was chosen to provide an ideal opportunity to draw attention to the vital role that shipping plays in underpinning the international economy and its significant contribution to international trade and the world economy as the most efficient, safe and environmentally friendly method of transporting goods around the globe. Mr. Mitropoulos is also exploring the possibility of holding an event focusing on the year's theme in another city of a Member country (in addition to London) in order to highlight the role of IMO in safety, security and marine pollution prevention in all regions of the world.

19 November 2004


IMO - the International Maritime Organization - is the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.

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