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Monday, May 26, 2008

Pedra Branca Case

ST May 22, 2008

Ruling for Singapore

SINGAPORE claims sovereignty over Pedra Branca on the basis that the British took lawful possession of the island between 1847 and 1851, when they built Horsburgh Lighthouse there.
Before that, the island was terra nullius, that is, it belonged to no one, Singapore had argued before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Netherlands last November.

Singapore inherited the title to the island from the British colonial government.

It maintained that title through an open, continuous and effective display of state authority over the island from the 1850s up to the present, it said.

Those state activities, known in international law as effectivites, went well beyond the operation of Horsburgh Lighthouse, and included naval patrols in the waters around Pedra Branca and the control of access to the island.

If the ICJ judges agree, it could result in one of two possible outcomes.


THE court could award sovereignty over Pedra Branca, the Middle Rocks and South Ledge to Singapore.

That would be 'optimum' for Singapore, Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh said.

Such an outcome would maintain the status quo. Singapore would then have to decide how to delimit its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone around Pedra Branca.

'If these zones overlap with those of our two neighbours (Malaysia and Indonesia), then we will have to sit down with them to negotiate an agreed delimitation...and we may have to talk to Malaysia about fishing rights in Pedra Branca's waters,' he added.




THE court could award sovereignty over Pedra Branca to Singapore and sovereignty over the Middle Rocks and South Ledge to Malaysia.

Middle Rocks and South Ledge are two maritime features that lie within three nautical miles of Pedra Branca.

Ambassador Koh said he would regard such a split decision as still 'a good outcome because the lighthouse is on Pedra Branca and of the three maritime features, the largest and the most significant is Pedra Branca'.

On the economic importance of Pedra Branca to Singapore, Ambassador Koh noted that the island is strategically located at the eastern entrance of the Strait of Singapore.

The Strait is a key channel for international shipping and some 900 ships pass through it each day.

'Since our port is so important to our livelihood, freedom and safety of navigation are critical and part of our core national interest,' he said

May 26, 2008
For all our sakes, it's time to move on
NOW the International Court of Justice has made its ruling on Pedra Branca, I am sure there will be no shortage of 'experts', 'analysts', 'patriots' and so on, who will take every opportunity to voice their opinion in public.
I would like to make a plea to the media, to restrain from prolonging or highlighting this topic for public discussion.

It will not help to foster goodwill between our two countries; it will only breed more disagreement and discontent.

Both governments have, in their wisdom, accepted the judgment of an independent court. So must the people.

We should encourage people to leave behind the burden of political baggage, and move on to a better future.

For the good of both countries, the media should encourage people to look forward to a better future and not look back at the past.

For the sake of both Singapore and Malaysia, it is better to find ways to build a better future, rather than find fault on what occurred in the past.

Dr George Wong
SM: Accepting outcome shows maturing of ties
Disappointed that S'pore did not get Middle Rocks but he calls ruling 'fair and best'
By zakir Hussain

THE world court's decision on Pedra Branca has untied a 'tricky knot' in bilateral ties between Singapore and Malaysia, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday.
Both sides can now 'look forward instead of being bogged down by this issue', he told reporters ahead of a charity golf tournament to raise funds for the needy in Yuhua constituency.

He also lauded the calm reactions in both countries to the decision, saying that this showed 'a maturing of our relationship'.

'This augurs well for the future. We can now look at things in a more positive way and handle any further disputes in the same matured manner,' he added.

Last Friday, the International Court of Justice in The Hague awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore, ending a 28-year tussle for sovereignty over the island.

The ICJ also awarded two smaller outcrops near it, Middle Rocks, to Malaysia. But it did not make a definitive ruling on South Ledge, a rock formation visible only at low tide.

That rock belongs to whoever owns the territorial waters it sits in, the ICJ said, adding that it was not tasked with defining those boundaries.

Even before the ruling, both sides said they would accept the court's outcome - something Mr Goh described as 'positive'.

Since the ruling, some Malaysian leaders have also described the decision as a 'win-win' situation.

It was in 1994 that then-prime minister Goh and his then-Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad decided to refer the issue of overlapping claims to Pedra Branca to the ICJ.

Asked if the ruling brought closure for him, Mr Goh said it did: 'It has been a long drawn out saga...And I look at the outcome in a positive way.'

As to whether he was worried about sentiments in Johor, he said: 'We will leave it to the Malaysians to manage.'

'So far they've managed it very well. They of course are unhappy, and I thought, nevertheless, they reacted in a rather calm manner,' he said.

'Personally, I'm disappointed that we did not get the award for Middle Rocks,' he added.

'I thought it would either be all or nothing, a binary solution, because the three rocky outcrops were quite close to one another.'

'But nevertheless, there is a hint of Solomon in the decision,' he said, referring to the Biblical king known for his wisdom.

'And I think perhaps it's the fair and best outcome for both sides.'

As for South Ledge, both parties have to sit down and decide how to draw boundaries according to international law to determine ownership.

But Mr Goh is optimistic about the eventual outcome. 'I do believe that given the goodwill assured by both sides in bringing this dispute to the ICJ, the matter will be settled quite amicably,' he said.


What is Pedra Branca?

Pedra Branca is an island that sits at the eastern entrance of the Straits of Singapore. It lies about 24 nautical miles to the east of Singapore.

Its location has long been of strategic importance to us as it commands the entire eastern approach to the Straits of Singapore, through which almost 900 ships pass daily.

The oldest feature on the island is Horsburgh Lighthouse, which was built on the island by the British between 1847 and 1851.

What is Singapore’s case with regard to Pedra Branca?

It is Singapore’s case that Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore because the British colonial government took possession of the island over 160 years ago to build Horsburgh Lighthouse and other structures on it. At that time, Pedra Branca was uninhabited and it belonged to no one.

Since then, Singapore has continuously and openly conducted acts of a sovereign nature over the entire island and its surrounding waters. In contrast, Malaysia did nothing and did not protest against any of the actions of Singapore.

In 1953, Johor stated in official correspondence with Singapore that it did not claim ownership over Pedra Branca. Malaysia also published a series of official maps from 1962 to 1975 depicting Pedra Branca as belonging to Singapore.

What are Middle Rocks and South Ledge?

Middle Rocks and South Ledge are two maritime features to the south of Pedra Branca. Middle Rocks consists of two clusters of rocks situated 0.6 nautical miles south of Pedra Branca. South Ledge is a low-tide elevation (in other words, it is submerged at high tide) further south, 2.1 nautical miles, of Pedra Branca.

It is Singapore’s case that sovereignty over Middle Rocks and South Ledge belongs to the country that has sovereignty over Pedra Branca.

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