|Indonesian, Singaporean and Malaysian Navy Vessels patrol among shipping traffic in Malacca Straits (File photo - July 20, 2004)|
The Malacca Straits is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Lying between Malaysia and Indonesia and Singapore, the straits carry a third of the world's trade, and half its oil supplies.
Until recently, piracy was a serious problem on the narrow waterway. The International Maritime Bureau says a third of the global pirate attacks on shipping occur in Indonesian waters.
But speaking Sunday at a regional security conference in Singapore, Malaysia's defense minister and deputy prime minister, Najib Tun Razak, said stepped-up patrols by Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have led to a 25 percent fall in piracy attacks since last July.
New Zealand Defense Minister Mark Burton, in remarks Sunday, agreed that security on the straits had improved markedly over the past year, but he added that trading nations in the region were still watching closely.
"There continues to be strong interest, of course, from states like New Zealand and many others, for whom the security of the straits is a pivotal part of international trade," said Mr. Burton.
Japan, with one of the world's largest container shipping fleets, has expressed its fears over the state of security in the straits, and the Philippines is also looking to carry out cooperative maritime surveillance operations on them.
Malaysia has resisted offers by outside countries, including the United States, to assist in the patrols within its territorial waters. Mr. Burton said outside countries needed to respect the regional integrity of the states.
"I think, it's equally recognized that there is a delicate balance to be struck between protecting international trading opportunity and rights with the territorial integrity of the littoral states and that work is being done," he added.
However, Mr. Razak did call on outside nations to make "concrete contributions" toward making the Malacca Straits safer, such as by sharing intelligence and providing radar and satellite technology.
The piracy on the Malacca Straits had led some intelligence analysts to fear the worst, that al-Qaida terrorists or their allies would seize a vessel in the strategic sea lane, load it with bombs, sail it into a harbor and detonate the bombs.
But Mr. Razak told the conference that Malaysia has yet to uncover any "credible" connection between the pirates and terrorist groups, such as Jemaah Islamiya, a Southeast Asian group, linked to al-Qaida.
His remarks contrast with those of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong. In opening the conference Friday, he said that terrorists were studying maritime targets in Southeast Asia.