Malaysia – Government agencies are working feverishly to gather information on islands and marine features which could be eyed by neighbouring countries.
This comes in the wake of the International Court of Justice’s decision to award Pedra Branca to Singapore.
The court, however, handed ownership of Middle Rocks to Malaysia, while the status of South Ledge will be decided based on whose territorial waters it is in.
As the claim of ownership extends beyond islands to marine features such as reefs and even rock formations visible only during low tides, the number could exceed thousands.
A maritime expert, however, said the most urgent were about 100 islands, reefs, rocks and other marine features lying in the South China Sea, Straits of Malacca and off Sabah.
Among the claimants are China, Vietnam and Indonesia, a source said.
He said agencies were collecting data on these islands and marine features.
He added that the data collection was crucial. “If other countries start to claim our property, we will be in better position as we would have the data.”
He said some of the islands were significant while others were not.
It is learnt that the National Remote Sensing Centre had also started zooming in on some of the islands and marine features at the southern coast of the peninsula to gather information on them.”We will expedite the data gathering,” the source said.
Using satellites, the Remote Sensing agency will also collect data from Malaysia’s other coastal areas.
Foreign Ministry officials are also engaged in discussions to look into the implications of the ICJ’s decision on Pedra Branca.
These include the right of passage of Malaysian fishermen going to the waters around Middle Rocks and South Ledge.
As of now, fishermen have been advised to stay away until the government studies the implications of the decision. Top officials from the Fisheries Department have also been in meetings with officials from other agencies to discuss the implications, especially the impact on fishermen. They are looking at ways that would benefit fishermen.
However, Fish Merchant Association president Goi Hong Kee said his members were not affected by the decision as most fishermen did not go near Pedra Branca.
“Those who go there usually fish illegally and sell it to Singapore,” he said.
However, he said the association welcomed guidelines from the authorities.