Maritime disputes best settled through negotiations: Singapore on filing UNCLOS declaration

Maritime disputes best settled through negotiations: Singapore on filing UNCLOS declaration

Maritime boundary delimitation disputes are best settled through negotiations, said Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Thursday (Dec 13) amid an ongoing maritime dispute with Malaysia. Elizabeth Neo with the story.

SINGAPORE: Maritime boundary delimitation disputes are best settled through negotiations, said Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Thursday (Dec 13) amid an ongoing maritime dispute with Malaysia.

Responding to media queries on Singapore's filing of a declaration under Article 298 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the ministry said: "Singapore believes that maritime boundary delimitation disputes are best resolved through negotiations, in order to reach an amicable settlement acceptable to all of the parties."

READ: Maritime dispute: Singapore "disappointed" at Malaysia's position but welcomes de-escalation

The Singapore Government had on Wednesday filed a declaration under UNCLOS to ensure that other states cannot "unilaterally commence third party arbitration or adjudication against Singapore in respect of maritime boundary disputes".

"Singapore likewise cannot unilaterally commence third-party arbitration or adjudication against other states parties for such disputes," the MFA spokesperson added. 

"However, if this cannot be achieved, Singapore is prepared to settle such a dispute by recourse to an appropriate international third-party dispute settlement procedure, on terms mutually agreed to by the parties."

READ: Singapore, Malaysia maritime dispute: A timeline

If a dispute cannot be resolved through negotiations, MFA said Singapore will work with other parties to agree on the choice of forum and the specific issues to be decided so that the matter can be submitted to arbitration or adjudication.

"This is preferable to one party taking another unilaterally to arbitration or adjudication, without prior mutual agreement on these key issues," it said.

Singapore and Malaysia have been locked in a maritime dispute sparked by Malaysia's unilateral decision to extend the Johor Bahru post limits in October, and the subsequent intrusion of Malaysian government vessels in Singapore waters.

Both countries are parties to UNCLOS, which defines how coastal states are allowed to establish sovereignty over territorial seas.

READ: Malaysian vessel parked in Singapore waters is used to mark territory

Under Article 298, a state can make a formal declaration to opt out of the arbitration or adjudication procedures outlined in UNCLOS for three categories of disputes, including one relating to territorial seas between states with opposite or adjacent coasts.

Countries such as France, Canada, Italy, Spain, Australia and Thailand have made similar UNCLOS declarations, MFA said.

"Singapore has informed Malaysia that Singapore has filed this declaration," said the spokesperson.

Representatives from Singapore and Malaysia will meet in the second week of January next year to discuss the Johor Bahru port limits issue. 

"Singapore hopes that by engaging each other, the two governments will reach a swift and amicable resolution, in accordance with international law," said MFA, adding that Singapore remains committed to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law. 

READ: Singapore extends port limits off Tuas, won't hesitate to take action against Malaysia intrusions: Khaw

Singapore's Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Wednesday said that Malaysia has taken steps to de-escalate tensions on the ground as one Malaysian ship remained in Singapore's territorial waters. 

There were three Malaysian government vessels in Singapore's waters last Friday. 

In a press conference on Dec 6, Mr Khaw said there were 14 intrusions into Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas in the two weeks that had passed. 

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad earlier said that Malaysia had not "touched" Singapore's border and that it was "still within our own waters". 

Source: CNA/ad/sk(cy/hm)

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