KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 15 — Singapore today admitted to sending Police Coast Guard (PCG) and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) vessels to respond to Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian, even when his entourage had comprised just Malaysian civilian vessels.
In an oral reply to its Parliament, Singaporean Minister of Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen said the republic’s security agencies had detected Osman’s entourage early, accusing the incident of increasing tensions and “real risks”.
“Our PCG and RSN vessels responded promptly to this provocation, as they had to. As a result, the total number of vessels in the area more than doubled.
“These provocations do nothing to help resolve disputes and indeed can precipitate incidents on the ground which will do lasting harm to bilateral ties,” he said.
Two of the republic’s MPs, Lee Bee Wah and Dennis Tan Lip Fong, had asked the minister of Singapore’s reaction to Malaysian vessels near the disputed waters. In addition, Lee had asked if the country’s Armed Forces will challenge the Malaysian vessels.
In response, Dr Ng said the country’s security agencies “do have the capability to compel the intruding” Malaysian government vessels to leave, but have been ordered to “exercise restraint and avoid escalating tensions with Malaysia”.
Last month, Malay Mail reported that the RSN had sent a patrol ship into Johor Baru’s new port limits several times, after Putrajaya’s offer to de-escalate the standoff in the contested waters off Johor.
According to a source familiar with the situation there, RSN’s RSS Unity — a 1,250-tonne Independence-class littoral mission vessel (LMV) fitted with at least a 76mm gun and anti-air missile system — was spotted there.
The only Malaysian ships in the waters were the anchored MV Polaris, a Malaysia Marine Department (MMD) civilian vessel providing safety of navigation, usually by laying buoys to mark territory or safety hazards, along with a patrolling Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency vessel.
MV Polaris has since been replaced by MMD vessel MV Pedoman earlier this month.
Osman had visited MV Pedoman which was anchored within Johor Baru’s new port limits, but Singapore is disputing the limits claimed and has since expanded its own port limits to overlap Johor Baru’s.
Singapore then postponed the 14th Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia originally scheduled yesterday, after accusing Osman of intruding into Singapore’s territorial waters.
Yesterday speaking in Parliament, Singaporean Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan has also Osman of allegedly “undermining the goodwill and trust” for bilateral cooperations between the two countries.
Dr Vivian was earlier reported saying the ties with neighbouring Malaysia have been in a “downward spiral” over the disputes, but hoped the issues could be resolved amicably.