Bringing new vision to shape Malaysia’s maritime policies 

Dato Mohamed Suffian Awang, the chairman of the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA), shares his visionary outlook for Malaysia’s maritime sector with Maritime Fairtrade.

His vision is closely aligned with global frameworks and goals set by International Maritime Organization (IMO), United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles, and also mirrors the domestic policies including the MADANI framework, Economy MADANI, 12th Malaysia Plan, Malaysia Shipping Master Plan, and the National Transportation Policy 2019-2030. 

Together, these efforts work towards enhancing Malaysia’s position in the maritime industry while addressing environmental sustainability and socio-economic development goals.

Dato Mohamed Suffian Awang, chairman. Photo credit: MIMA 

What are major challenges facing Malaysia’s maritime policy?

On an international scale, the ratification and incorporation of IMO conventions into national legislation pose a substantial challenge. This is particularly crucial for Malaysia in ensuring compliance by ships operating under its flag. Key objectives include:

•          Meeting the stricter emission standards outlined in Annex VI of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) MARPOL agreement. These standards dictate that greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping must be reduced by 20 to 30 percent by 2030 and 70 to 80 percent by 2040, in comparison to levels seen in 2008. Achieving these targets can be expensive and complicated because it requires implementing energy-efficient technologies.

•          The prevention of invasive species spread through ballast water is a significant concern addressed by the Ballast Water Management Convention. Complying with this convention, however, poses challenges for both shipowners and authorities. One challenge is to ensure compliance with the guidelines of the convention. Another hurdle is to ensure the availability of treatment systems that can effectively manage ballast water.

•          Ensuring compliance with MARPOL. This involves addressing possible pollution incidents, like oil spills and spills of hazardous cargo. Dealing with these incidents can be complex and require technical expertise, as well as efficient logistical coordination.

•          Complying with the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) is crucial to safeguard ports, shipping routes, and prevent security threats such as piracy. It involves cooperation from various stakeholders to ensure that the most effective security measures are implemented.

•          To comply with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) regarding illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, Malaysia must not only adopt suitable policies but also improve monitoring, control, and surveillance measures. These efforts are essential in effectively tackle IUU fishing activities in our waters and ensuring compliance with UNCLOS regulations regarding maritime policy.

Malaysia faces strong competition from nearby maritime hubs, such as Singapore, in terms of attracting shipping companies, securing ship financing, and providing maritime services. These neighboring countries pose a challenge for Malaysia in developing its maritime industry. 

In my personal opinion, approaching this competition from the perspective of the blue ocean strategy would be more advantageous than the red ocean strategy. With the blue ocean approach, Malaysia can foster collaborative efforts with neighboring countries, establish efficient regulatory frameworks, and invest in shared infrastructure. 

The goal is to create a scenario where all countries can maintain their competitiveness, resulting in a win-win situation for everyone.

What are the most pressing issues to address in Malaysia’s maritime policy framework?

First, I would like to declare as the chairman of MIMA, I underpin that these issues are not isolated challenges as they are all intricately linked to the objectives of IMO and UNSDGs, and the most important is the strategic direction set by the Ministry of Transport (MOT). By recognizing and addressing these pressing issues, it is the hope of MIMA that Malaysia can pave the way for a sustainable, prosperous, and resilient maritime future.

The most pressing issue that requires attention in Malaysia’s maritime policy framework is apparently climate change that poses a significant threat to Malaysia’s maritime sector. Rising sea levels, intensified storms, and their effects on coastal communities and infrastructure need to be addressed, particularly considering that Malaysia is among the countries with the highest per capita carbon emissions rate in Southeast Asia. Malaysia must adapt to climate change while actively reducing our carbon footprint in accordance with UNSDG 13.

I also agree that marine pollution and habitat degradation are endangering the health of our marine ecosystems, putting biodiversity at risk, and impacting the livelihoods of coastal communities, in line with UNSDG 14. Thus, I urge that it is imperative to align our policies with the IMO conventions and develop strategies for pollution prevention and sustainable marine resource management.

Nevertheless, I would also like to enlighten the challenges of substantial investments in technology, infrastructure, and training in this alignment, especially in terms of stricter IMO regulations and national policies and standards demand. Thus, ensuring compliance with these conventions is a continuous challenge that necessitates strategic planning.

How does MIMA contribute to shaping and implementing Malaysia’s maritime policies?

MIMA, through its structured research and development activities, plays a pivotal role in influencing Malaysia’s maritime policies. By aligning our interventions with Malaysia’s maritime policies and the IMO conventions, we can contribute to shaping the country’s maritime landscape:

•          Conducting in-depth research on various maritime issues, international best practices, and emerging trends in the maritime sector, including compliance with IMO conventions, to assist policymakers in making informed decisions and aligning Malaysia’s maritime policies with global standards.

•          Providing valuable insights, recommendations, and policy briefs based on our thorough research, ensuring that proposed policies are supported by data and analysis.

•          Enhancing Malaysia’s capability to implement IMO conventions. One of MIMA’s core missions is to provide training programs, workshops, and seminars to various stakeholders, including government agencies, the shipping industry, and seafarers, with the aim of ensuring compliance with IMO and national policies. This includes efforts to upskill and reskill players in the maritime industry, thus supporting their ability to meet the requirements of these conventions.

•          Collaborating with our parent ministry, MOT and other ministries and government agencies to create efficient regulatory frameworks, which are designed to facilitate compliance with IMO conventions and national policies, covering aspects like emissions control, safety, security, and marine environmental protection.

•          Fostering international collaboration by engaging with national and international organizations, research institutions, and maritime experts worldwide to help Malaysia stay updated on global maritime developments and best practices in accordance with IMO conventions.

•          Promoting data sharing among various government agencies and stakeholders within the maritime sector e.g., through MIMA Dash to facilitate a more cohesive approach to implementing IMO conventions.

What are some MIMA’s projects that have significant impact on the maritime sector?

MIMA researchers are engaged in impactful research at the national, regional, and international levels, conducted through five dedicated research centers: Maritime Security & Diplomacy (MSD), Ocean Law and Policy (OLAP), Maritime Economics and Industry (MEI), Straits of Malacca (SOM), and the Centre for Coastal and Marine Environment (CMER).

Among all the research projects, some are funded internally by various ministries and agencies, while others received external funding from international organizations. This funding could be related to the maritime sector, either directly or indirectly.

Some examples of projects in this sector include Seadash: Malaysia Maritime Dashboard, Halal Maritime and Logistics, Consolidation of the Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952 into a Single Merchant Shipping Law, Legal Regime on Malaysian Submarine Cables, Risk Assessment of Ship Accidents in the Straits of Malacca, Maritime Cybersecurity Threats, Strategy towards Ratification of the International Convention for Safe Container (CSC) 1972, Indo-Pacific Ocean Governance, and Geopolitical and Security Developments in Southeast Asia’s Maritime Domain.

Seadash, developed by MEI, is a platform that offers a complete and up-to-date overview of maritime data. It helps decision-makers make informed choices, improve operational efficiency, and promote sustainable growth in the maritime industry. 

Similarly, the research conducted on CSC 1972 by OLAP has greatly enhanced container safety in Malaysia’s maritime sector. This achievement has positive effects on international standards, environmental protection, global trade, and maritime safety. It also encourages international collaboration and compliance with IMO regulations. 

How does MIMA communicate its research findings and recommendations to policymakers and stakeholders?

Research serves as the bedrock upon which sound policies are built. At MIMA, we recognize that our role extends beyond conducting research, where it encompasses the vital task of effectively communicating our findings to those who can transform the maritime policy research knowledge into action. 

Our team of researchers from various disciplines conduct thorough and detailed research. We work diligently to collect data, analyze trends, and derive valuable insights using both quantitative and qualitative research methods. This approach ensures that our findings are comprehensive and reliable.

Thus, when we communicate our research findings and recommendations to policymakers and stakeholders, collaboration is undeniably central to our research methodology. 

MIMA actively engages with various stakeholders, including government agencies, industry players, academia, and civil society. This collaboration helps MIMA to determine research priorities for maritime policy and ensures that our findings address the most urgent issues within the maritime sector.

Subsequently, MIMA communicates its research findings through clear and accessible reports. We prioritize clarity and brevity to ensure that our reports are easily understandable to a wide audience. This is where MIMA employs data visualization, infographics, and plain language summaries to enhance accessibility. 

Finally, MIMA produces policy briefs that distil complex maritime policy research into actionable recommendations, thus are designed to be concise, practical, and directly applicable to policymaking. MIMA actively seeks feedback from stakeholders and policymakers to ensure that maritime policy research remains relevant and responsive to emerging challenges.

Photo credit: Istock/Tryaging

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