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Southeast Asian Nations to Begin Air Patrols Over Malacca Strait

Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand agreed Thursday to begin air patrols over the Strait of Malacca to boost security against piracy and terrorism in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

The four nations will each donate two planes for what they have dubbed the "Eye in the Sky" plan to operate coordinated patrols over the busy Strait of Malacca.

The aerial patrols will begin next week. All flights will carry a representative of each country to survey the narrow waterway, which carries more than a quarter of the world's trade.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa says all four countries hope the enhanced cooperation will boost security.

"This has taken principally the form of coordinated patrol. Until recently, most of the so-called coordinated patrol has been of naval vessels but now the idea is to elevate that further, actually to coordinated patrols in terms if air surveillance, so called "Eye in the Sky" approach," said Mr. Natalegawa. "But the aim is the same as before, namely to secure and enhance security in the Straits of Malacca."

Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand all border the strait. Its narrow channels, shallow reefs, and thousands of tiny islands make it vulnerable to pirate attacks.

There are concerns that ships in the strait could be vulnerable to attack by terrorists, who could use captured fuel or chemical tankers as floating bombs. The presence in the region of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, which is linked to the al-Qaida network, has heightened such fears.

The maritime watchdog group, the International Maritime Bureau, has said in its annual reports the Malacca Straits has also seen an increase in pirate attacks over the past several years. Lloyd's, the leading insurance company for ships, has placed the strait on its list of most dangerous waterways.

More than 50,000 vessels a year transit the narrow Malacca Strait carrying a large portion of the world's oil.