Asia ready for marine anti-terror initiative

Asia’s new initiative to combat piracy and deter terror strikes in the crucial Malacca Straits and surrounding seas is nearly ready to start, Singapore’s defence minister said today.

Asia’s new initiative to combat piracy and deter terror strikes in the crucial Malacca Straits and surrounding seas is nearly ready to start, Singapore’s defence minister said today.

The agreement links the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, along with Bangladesh, China, Japan, India, South Korea and Sri Lanka through a central network headquartered in the city-state.

The initiative involves linking communications among navies of 16 countries.

Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean said the new Regional Co-operation Agreement on Anti-Piracy in Asia, initiated by Tokyo, will be “entering into force soon”.

“A significant feature will be the setting up of an information sharing centre, which will provide more accurate reports of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the region,” Teo said.

He was speaking at a gathering of senior naval personnel from more than 20 countries, including the United States and Australia.

Asia is among the regions most prone to pirate attacks, the International Maritime Bureau said in its latest report earlier this month.

Indonesia, which shares the key 550-mile Straits of Malacca waterway with Malaysia and Singapore, remains the nation with the highest number of pirate attacks.

In July, the three countries began joint patrols of the Malacca Straits, and extended co-operation to include possible pursuit into each other’s territorial waters.

Ships carrying half the world’s crude oil supply and a third of global commerce vie for space in the waterway, with large deep-draft tankers barely clearing the sea bottom in several locations along the straits.

“The regional waterways are among the world‘s busiest and are critical to the flow of global trade.

"Any disruptions to these sealines of communications would have implications far beyond the Asia Pacific region,” Teo added.

While paying close attention to piracy incidents, authorities remain concerned that militants linked to al-Qaida regional affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah could launch a strike on one of the 50,000 vessels that ply the straits every year.

The threat became even more real after a strike on the USS Cole in 2000 that killed 17 American servicemen and was blamed on Osama bin Laden.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations includes Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar.

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