Conference Report – Asian Coastguard Conference at LIMA

SAFE PASSAGE through the Straits of Malacca, which lies between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, is paramount. Being one of the busiest water ways in the world it is important not just for local economies but the international community, reliant on goods being transported through one of the most important Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs).  However, as many of the speakers at the Conference made clear, it isn’t just the Straits of Malacca where illegal activities are rife.

In his opening address, Chairman Dato Seri Abdullah bin Ahmed, former Chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force now working with Tangent Link, hoped the speakers and delegates would attempt to enhance closer working relationships after the conference.

International maritime enforcement agencies from Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam as well as Malaysia were all present.


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Phil Guy, Managing Director of Tangent Link walks into the ACC
with Admiral Maritime Datuk Mohd Amdan Bin Kurish, Director General, MMEA
and Datuk Haji Ahmad Bin Haji Maslan, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.


Welcome Address

The Welcome Address was given by Admiral Maritime Datuk Mohd Amdan Bin Kurish, Director General, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA). He spoke of his pleasure that the MMEA was co-hosting with Tangent Link the first Asian Coast Guard Forum with a focus on the ‘Future of Maritime Coastguard operations in Asia’.

He hoped that the conference would explore issues that continue to challenge us and enable responses more effectively.  Every nation needs its Economic Exclusion Zones, established in 1994, to prosper often with offshore agricultures, deep seabed mining and energy generation that all contribute a huge amount to a country’s GDP.

At the same time the EEZ’s are often exposed to criminal activity, such as piracy, sea robbery, smuggling of drugs, arms, illegal fishing and human trafficking.  To govern the EEZ effectively nations had created specific domestic legislations to address the multiple issues. Seaborne trade provides an important role in the developing of Asian region. Imports and exports of essential goods, commodities and raw materials pass through important waterways surrounding Asian nations such as the Straits of Malacca (SOM). The Straits have become one of the most important sea ways used for international transport in the world as it forms a strategic waterway linking the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean.

It is a major sea route for the transit of goods and services worth some 1 trillion US dollars and more than 19,000 vessels passing through every year with the numbers ever increasing.  The mechanism of the safety and security of the SOM as a sea lane of communications cannot be taken for granted.  Any destruction of the free flow of navigation in the SOM would adversely affect the economies of all the trading nations which depend largely on seaborne trade including Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Realising this, local states have taken tremendous action to ensure the safety and security of the SOM at all time.

Individual, bilateral or multilateral efforts in place have seen an increase in cooperation between the nations. Maintaining safety and security at sea are major challenges for the international community.  Costs are considerably high so cooperation is vital. No one country can maintain at ensuring maritime security due to the challenges.  It needs commitment and close cooperation between maritime agencies.

Since being created in 1998, the MMEA has maintained good cooperation with various government and NGOs, such as the Malaysian Armed Forces, RM Police, Marine Dept, Royal Malaysian Customs, Fisheries Dept, Malaysian International Shipping Cooperation and organisations.

At a regional level, the MMEA has established closer working relationships with other nations to fight transnational crime. Neighbouring counterparts in Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand have established multilateral cooperation.

 

Deputy Minister Opens Conference

Datuk Haji Ahmad Bin Haji Maslan, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department took time out of his busy schedule to provide the Opening Address.
“Strengthening cooperation between the local maritime agencies is the aim of this conference” Datuk said.


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Datuk Haji Ahmad Bin Haji Maslan, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department
talks to some of the delegates and speakers.

He continued: “Armed robbery, piracy and terrorism are not the only threats at sea. There are other threats and disasters like oil spills from ships that could create a huge security impact if not contained.

“A ship that has entered into our ports or maritime zones could be practicing illegal activities.  Threats or challenges that we face today also include human smuggling and marine pollution.  I believe maritime strategy should include awareness, prevention, response and consequential management.

“We need to recognise the threats and anticipate our vulnerabilities. In the maritime domain it is about the knowledge of ships, people and cargo – every detail must be found about our adversaries and sharing among our international partners.

“Not just talking about it but doing it…to prevent and respond to threats to our economic security. Somebody has to engage these vessels one at a time, someone has to distinguish the suspicious from the innocent – someone has to put a vessel aside to put a team on board even if suspect vessels will resist.  Somebody has to coordinate the lame enforcement agencies and ensure prosecution all done according to the rule of law.  For the past eight years that somebody in Malaysia has been the MMEA.  It has brought a strong legal authority to secure and manage any situation that arises in the Malaysian maritime zone.

“Our nations’ economies and security are linked to the sea.  The people of the coastguard are more than guarding coasts, as a military service and a law enforcement agency.  There is also more done aside from state actors, with ship owners and shipping companies playing a more significant role in the security at sea. Shipping companies are responsible for adopting security measures to protect themselves from pirates.

It is our endeavour to promote mutual cooperation in the most effective way to guarantee the safety, security and sovereignty of our seas and oceans”.

He then declared the conference open for business.


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The Chairman, Dato Seri Abdullah bin Ahmed, former Chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force
is flanked by the four speakers from left to right:
Assistant Commissioner Hsu Sin Yin, Commander, Singapore Police Coast Guard;
Rear Admiral Waseem Akram, Director General, Pakistan Maritime Security Agency;
Captain Lydon F Latorre, Philippines Coast Guard Air Group Commander
and First Admiral Maritime Mohd Taha Bin Ibrahim, MMEA.


MMEA

Making the first presentation at the Conference was First Admiral Maritime Mod Taha Bin Ibrahim from the MMEA’s Maritime Academy Sultan Ahmad Shah, which had only opened two weeks earlier.  He discussed the MMEA’s Academy and Human Resource Development.

Since being formed in 1998 the MMEA had trained 414 of its own officers, which included 31 ladies, in five batches. Among the other ranks it had trained 1537 officers including 110 ladies in nine batches.  The tenth batch of 175 ratings are currently undergoing training at AMSAS.  These numbers constitute 45% of present MMEA personnel strength.


Pakistan Maritime Security Agency

The second speaker was Rear Admiral Waseem Akram, Director General, Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA).  He discussed the ‘Enforcing Maritime Laws at Sea’ and he went down well with the audience as he pulled no punches as to how to solve the many issues that the PMSA has to confront.  His questions and answers session after his presentation had to be curtailed when it went past the 20 minute mark!

Waseem told us how the PMSA’s area of responsibility extends from the border with Iran to India, covering a coastline of 990 kms (800 miles) long.  The PMSA covers all the maritime zones of Pakistan including the internal waters, territorial waters, its EEZ (which extends 200 nautical miles and covers 240,000 sq kms) will increase further when the UN recognises its Extended Continental Shelf (with another 55,000 sq kms).  This means the Search and Rescue (SAR) coverage extends out 840 nautical miles deep into the Arabian Sea.

He didn’t mince words when he said the prevailing maritime security environment was complex, chaotic and uncertain. As theatres of actions are not clearly defined, it demands coordinated undertakings with other agencies to defeat them.

Maritime security has grown in prominence since 9/11 era, while the search for terrorists continues on land, the international community continues to hunt for terror ships at sea.  There is no defined coordination with other nations to cope with the drug traffickers, gun runners, piracy, poaching, smuggling, human trafficking, marine pollution or maritime terrorism in his region.

Flags of Convenience is a major issue, as some vessels are being operated under the flag of another state other than the country of ownership, enabling it to avoid high registration fees and taxes as well as cheap labour operating under sub standard conditions. These ships are the safest bet for carrying out terrorist related activities.


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The Photo Call at Tangent Link’s Asian Coastguard Conference

The PMSA ensures no such acts are carried out in their area of responsibility. Better maritime domain awareness is achieved by continuously monitoring with aircraft from the Pak Navy and PMSA (which has three Islanders) to update the maritime picture.

Drug trafficking is by far the most lucrative means of generating funds to fuel ever growing terrorist activities and insurgencies around the globe. With profit margins running into 100s of per cent, drug trafficking is by far the most creative way of funding terrorist activities and insurgencies in the regions. There are clear links between gun running and drug trafficking, with shared supply and routes. It is extremely difficult to control one without controlling the other. Travelling by sea is by far the safest option for these people.

Insurgent movements around the world depend extensively on drug money to fuel their travels and equip their forces. There are clear links between drug and gun routes. The use of guns for protection by drug traffickers has meant PMSA has established bases all along the coast in a bid to stop arms being smuggled.
So far the PMSA has captured 15 billion rupees of drugs and prosecuted all the apprehended smugglers.  Due to PMSA efforts smugglers are now using alternative routes between Iran and Pakistan.

Piracy is mainly emanating from Somalia which threatens thousands of ships passing through the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Somali basin. Pirates have attacked ships close to the Pakistan coast. PMSA with help from the Pakistan Navy continue to carry out patrols in Pak maritime zones.  Due to their activities, there have been no cases of piracy in Pakistan EEZ.  As a result more merchant vessels are now moving through the EEZ heading for India and Far East and beyond.  This has increased the MSA’s responsibilities and the burden of work.

Another transnational crime is human trafficking, often using the same routes as drug traffickers and gun runners. Poaching by foreign fisherman in the Pak Indus delta region continues and is estimated that Indian fishermen catch approx 8 billion rupees of fish often causing ecological damage.  Catching these people is a delicate task generally the Indians operate 20 miles inside the Pak EEZ, but surprisingly are not apprehended – just told to clear off.  Pakistani fishermen seldom move into Indian waters.

Recent events in India, where two Italian security guards shot and killed several fisherman has highlighted the fact that diplomacy has to be used before guns. Pakistan does not allow civil ships passing through its waters with guns on view, as it could lead to the ship being stopped as a potential pirate ship.
Implementing law at sea, Pakistan established a Joint Maritime Information and Coordination Centre (JMICC) in February 2013 under the supervision of the Pak Navy, aimed at building a common sea picture for all stakeholders after receiving input from numerous military and civil agencies/departments.

Non military cooperation with neighbours would be another way forward, but that would mean Pakistan’s neighbours ridding themselves of their current ‘war mindset’.

The PMSA really needs to focus on swift decisive time critical response, necessitating fast moving ships, aircraft and all weather multi purpose helicopters. Despite resource constraints, the PMSA has arrested hundreds of smugglers of drugs and fuel, and the conviction was 100%. Their aim is to provide a free and safe maritime environment.

Rear Admiral Waseem admits “We have many challenges, and a multilateral force working in the region would be one solution. Partnerships of all national agencies/departments are essential for maritime security, as it provides the capacity to search wide areas and ability to react Regional maritime security in the Arabian Sea is provided by the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) which operates under the auspices of the US Naval Central Command.

“It is the ‘international coalition of the willing’ which provides vessels and aircraft. Member countries include a mix of regional and non regional countries.  The mix mostly comprises countries of Arabian Peninsula and Pakistan”. The objective is to maintain regional maritime security in the international waters of Arabian Gulf, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, Somali Basin and Red Sea which is a huge area stretching over 2.5 million sq miles commanded by Commander USNAVCENT.

The CMF achieves its aims by Command Task Force (CTF) 150, CTF 151 and CTF 152 – each of them commanded by member navies.


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Delegates prepare for the conference to start.


Singapore Police Coast Guard

Assistant Commissioner Hsu Sin Yun Commander of the Singapore Police Guard told delegates about the Police Force, which was established in 1890 and tasked to prevent, detect and deter crime in Singapore. It has 40,269 personnel.

Police Coast Guard (PCG) is one of the specialist units reporting to the Police Commissioner and has 1,300 officers which includes regulars, conscripts and civil staff.  They also have around 2,500 reserves.

They face a challenging operating environment due to Singapore’s highly porous border. Singapore does not have natural barriers along the coastal areas like cliffs or mountain regions which could deny intruders from sea.

“Our coastline is beachable which makes any intrusions pretty easy. We aim to build a common sea picture for all stakeholders after receiving input from numerous military and civil agencies/departments” he commented.
Singapore’s waters are cluttered with activity.  In the north the water channels are narrow with over 100 fish farms spreading from east to west.  In the south our waters are cluttered with large vessels, posing a big challenge to our surveillance measures as it doesn’t provide us with a good line of sight.  This means perpetrators could use these vessels as cover to avoid detection.

Like so many countries we do not have up to 12 nautical miles of sea to provide us with the time and space to respond.  In the north the average shore to shore distance is 3 kms and the shortest stretch is a mere 600m. In the south the shortest sea border with Indonesia is about 3-4 kms which poses a big challenge to our monitoring and response teams as it only takes 1-2 minutes to charge in and out of Singapore waters. The waters coupled with limited depth limits our tactical options.

The SPCG is currently concerned with three areas of concern- intrusion, terrorism and sea robbery.  In the areas of intrusion they face a transnational threat of weapons, drugs, contraband and persons.  The new breed of criminal is increasingly sophisticated and well organised.  They employ a course of tactics, using binoculars, night vision goggles, decoys and faster boats to reach our sands.

The second threat faced by SPCG is terrorists using the same seas and rocks to bring explosives and guns into Singapore. The Mumbai attacks in 2008 had a significant effect on the way we now defend our coasts.

The waters are strategically important to Singapore’s economy, being a focal point for 200 shipping lanes making for more than 600 ports all over the world. With a high sea traffic volume of around 130,000 vessels plying through our waters every year an attack would undermine confidence in their waters. Attacks could come from lightly armed desperadoes or a highly organised hijacking team of professionals.  More preventive measures beyond what they have already are needed.

The SPCG needs to be faster than the criminals, and needs more countries to information share allowing them a pre-emptive move in the shortest time.  This is relevant to every country which could be a source country, transit country or destination country in the transnational crime chain. Thus obtaining information that can arrest up stream or down stream from the chain.

Information and international cooperation provides an early warning thereby providing more tactical options, enhancing the speed of decision making and implementation process. Working relationships need to be created to put this to good effect.

The SPCG has established a number of platforms to seek assistance in fulfilling its requirements.  The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre (ISC) is one of them as is the Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies
The SPCG has no airborne assets.


Philippines Coast Guard

 

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Proud to be here! The Philippines Coast Guard Air Wing Air Group Commander
Captain Lydon F Latorre (left) stands with a colleague.

Captain Lydon F Latorre, Commander Coast Guard Air Group, Philippines Coast Guard told us how the Philippines Coast Guard became independent in 2010, after initially being under the Navy since 1967 and the Department of Transport in 1998.

Its role is to promote safety of life and property at sea, safeguard the marine environment and resources, enforce all applicable maritime laws and undertake activities in support of DOTC mission’.

There are some 7,107 islands in Philippines and there is 9 times as much sea water as land to cover.  It has a maritime area of 2.8 million sq kms, land area of 299,000 sq kms, 35,000 kms of coastline and 32 major fishing areas with 2145 variety of fish. The Philippines is at the cross roads of Asia and Pacific poaching networks.

It faces the same problems as most Coast Guards, fighting criminals, smugglers, human traffickers and poachers.  It has a number of International Cooperation Agreements with China (Maritime Cooperation), South Korea (Discussion Record on Mutual Exchange of Information on Transnational Maritime Crimes), Singapore (MOA on Exchange of Information relating to White Shipping), Taiwan (MOU on Maritime Search and Rescue and Marine Environmental Protection Cooperation), Vietnam (MOA on Cooperation in Oil Spill Preparedness and Response as well as MOA on a Hotline Communication Mechanism).   The Philippines is also a signatory to ReCAAP.

President Acquino recently established a National Coastal Watch system which defines the structures and roles of responsibilities of inter government agencies that will provide a coordinated inter agency maritime security operation. The NCW system will serve as a centre for a coordinated approach to maritime law enforcement and provide better governance.

Airborne assets include two BN-2 Islanders and two Bo 105s and there is a requirement to replace them.

The conference was then closed by the Chairman.


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Datuk Haji Ahmad Bin Haji Maslan and Admiral Maritime Datuk Mohd Amdan Bin Kurish,
Director General of the MMEA talk to the press after the conference.
The events at Sabah, where the MMEA had come under the control of the Joint Headquarters
came high on the journalist’s agenda.