SINGAPORE: Ninety-four people were arrested for trying to breach Singapore's coastline in 2015 - a five-year high, and an average of one person every four days.
As efforts to enter Singapore illegally by sea become more organised, with perpetrators using faster boats, decoys and camouflage to evade detection, the Police Coast Guard is likewise stepping up surveillance with new technology, including panoramic electro-optics sensors along Singapore’s borders, as well as tethered unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, that will be deployed from coastal patrol craft by 2019.
Singapore’s coastline is also guarded by floating sea barriers, land fences and sea fences. It is estimated that by 2030, 75 per cent of Singapore's coastline will be barricaded in one way or another.
The nature of threats to Singapore has also changed.
“In the past, (we saw threats like) piracy, sea robbery, smuggling,” Comprehensive Maritime Awareness Group commander Senior Lieutenant Colonel (SLTC) Nicholas Lim told Channel NewsAsia.
“We always thought that these were the concerns of other countries. But in the last few years, these threats changed. It’s become more transboundary. For example, we are aware of Islamic State (IS). Now they have followers, sympathisers in different parts of the world and they conduct (activities) on behalf of their leaders,” he said. “Terrorists are planning and plotting so we always have to be on the lookout.”
FOILING THE MARINA BAY ROCKET PLOT
The Police Coast Guard is part of the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre (SMCC), which also comprises security agencies including the navy, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, Singapore Customs, as well as the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.
Set up in 2011, the SMCC was the nerve centre of the operation that foiled the plot to fire a rocket at Marina Bay from Indonesia's Batam island in August 2016, shortly before Singapore's National Day.
"We had some indication about the plots by the terrorists," SLTC Lim said, explaining how the navy and Police Coast Guard worked together to have different layers of ships patrolling the area.
"In SMCC, we used our systems, including analytics in the social media domain; we were able to pick up linkages between the syndicate of six that were arrested, with another person that was linked to them, and was involved in the maritime domain."
NEED FOR STRONGER COOPERATION INTERNATIONALLY
There is also room for working on an international level in order to deal with threats, SLTC Lim said.
The Singapore Navy hosts an international working group called the Information Fusion Centre (IFC) in Singapore. The multinational information-sharing hub sees people from different countries and various agencies working together to increase awareness of maritime security events in and around the region.
IFC was part of the global search effort for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 when it went missing in 2014.
The group also helped inform the Indonesian Navy that a vessel - Hai Soon 12 - had gone missing in the Java Sea in May 2016.
“When something happens, we want to make sure that the relevant agencies from the different countries are aware and once they are aware, they will be able to respond to those incidents,” said SLTC Lim.
Acting on the information, the Indonesian Navy sent a warship to locate the vessel and discovered that it had been invaded by pirates, who were subsequently arrested.