A coordinated and integrated approach guided by international law and regulations is essential to address ocean-related issues such as the decline of the oceans’ health, said Malaysia’s Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Wee Ka Siong.
He said the warming and acidification of the oceans has had an unequal impact on low-lying coastal states and small-island developing states. Sea-level rise, which has been one of the key features of the impact of climate change, is a major challenge to countries like Malaysia.
“Malaysia, together with other like-minded countries, believe that we need to pursue a coordinated and integrated approach to face these issues,” he said in his keynote address at the 45th Annual Conference on Oceans Law & Policy, themed “UNCLOS at 40”, on March 16.
As Wee was not able to attend the event, his speech was delivered by Secretary-General, Ministry of Transport Malaysia, Datuk Isham Ishak. The conference, hosted by the Maritime Institute of Malaysia and the Stockton Center for International Law at the United States Naval War College, provided a platform to discuss challenges faced by countries in ensuring a sustainable ocean economy guided by international law and order.
He went on to say that amidst the unprecedented challenges and socio-economic impact brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an opportunity to revive the ocean and to make a commitment to maintain and promote peace, security and stability in the region in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“Malaysia is committed to keeping our maritime zones safe and secure for international transport, international trade, and other ocean-related issues. The safety and security of the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea are vital for national, regional, and international shipping.
“The South China Sea is becoming increasingly vital, not just in terms of defense strategy but also in terms of the country’s economic development. In the Asia Pacific region, the potential for growth in the maritime transport industry is very promising.”
Malaysia, together with neighbors Singapore and Indonesia, has established cooperative mechanisms in the Straits of Malacca to ensure safety of navigation in one of the world’s busiest maritime lanes used for international shipping. The trio’s Malacca Straits Patrol has been recognized as a successful cooperation model among littoral states, as advocated in UNCLOS.
The importance of maritime security is underlined by the fact that economic contribution from marine natural resources and ocean industries, including oil-and-gas and ports and shipping industries, has been rising in importance.
“More than 50 percent of Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product is generated through maritime foreign trade and the fishing industry. The economic value of Malaysia’s maritime sector is generated by a wide range of economic and resource-use activities, including shipping and maritime transport, marine fisheries, marine tourism, mining, education, energy, marine engineering, and biotechnology,” Wee said.
He added that Malaysia is also facing other threats including illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing. Although the authority has formulated the National Action Plan to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate IUU fishing in accordance with the United Nation Food Agriculture Organization’s Plan of Action on IUU, he cautioned that “despite this solid legal and policy framework, we cannot face this threat alone as the problem is multifaceted and cross borders in nature.”
Another risk is that around three-quarters of Malaysian population live in or near coastal regions and marine life and vital coastal habitats are thus straining under the increasing pressure of deteriorating seawater quality.
Malaysia is committed to the use of green energy and wants reduce greenhouse gas emissions intensity of GDP by 45 percent by 2030 relative to the emissions intensity of GDP in 2005.
“Our measures include greening of industries to address environmental pollution, and to conserve biodiversity and its ecosystems. We have developed a structured policy for the long term to harvest renewable energy,” Wee said.
Therefore, as can be seen with the multitude of maritime-related issues, Malaysia has a considerable stake in the ocean and as such has a need to develop responsible maritime policies, and institutional and legal frameworks for a comprehensive ocean governance.
Malaysia stands firm with law and order
The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides an overarching legal framework that governs all activities in the world’s oceans and seas. This year, UNCLOS 1982 celebrates its 40th anniversary of becoming the legal foundation for the global maritime rules-based order, which is essential to ensure a peaceful and stable maritime domain.
Malaysia signed the UNCLOS when it was adopted in 1982 and became a State Party to the 1982 Convention when the country ratified the Convention in October 1996. The convention, which is also referred to as the Constitution of the Ocean, has for all these years, remained a doctrine and the main beacon of reference of all activities in the world’s oceans and life below the sea. It should be promoted as the primary base of interaction between states when it comes to issues and disputes in the maritime domain.
Malaysia continues to uphold the principles enshrined in the Convention and has enacted domestic legislation to enforce the rule of international law in local waters. The convention is a significant document that regulates almost every aspect of the use and resources of the sea which, in turn, contributes to Malaysia’s maritime development by strengthening interactions, communication, and cooperation between states and the users of the commons.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has a mandate as a global legislative entity to further regulate maritime issues on the basis of many of its provisions and to date, Malaysia has ratified 26 of the 58 IMO conventions as part of responsibility to ensure vessel seaworthy.
Photo credit: iStock/ Aiman Khair bin Samsol Hairi. August 31, 2019, parade contingent marching at the 62ndMerdeka Day celebration of Malaysia in Putrajaya.