Nationalism: noun, “Loyalty and devotion to a nation or ethnic group that places emphasis on promoting the interests, cultural and social values, or religion of one group above all others.” As defined nationalism is an admirable trait. In extreme forms it can lead to xenophobic behavior.
The Malacca Straits, a narrow waterway slicing Indonesia’s Sumatra island from mainland Southeast Asia, is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, funnelling 50,000 vessels a year between the biggest economies of the West and the East. This week there were seven reported incidents of attempted piracy, five occured in Malacca or Indonesian waters. The risk of terrorist/pirate attacks can perhaps never be eliminated, but sensible steps can be taken to reduce the risk.
The Malaysian coastline makes up a section of the Malacca Straits and their security officials should be sympathetic to the security situation in the area. Unfortunately they have come down with an extreme case of xenophobia and have started screaming “not in my backyard.”
Any ship providing private armed escort services to merchant vessels in the pirate-infested Malacca Strait will be detained, a top Malaysian security official warned in remarks published yesterday.
Director of internal security Othman Talib was responding to reports earlier this month that a private security firm employing former members of elite military units had begun providing armed escorts to ships plying dangerous Asian waters.
What has the Director crying foul is a Singapore-based maritime security company, Background Asia Risk Solutions (BARS). The company provides its own armour-plated vessel that accompanies ships between Sri Lanka, through the Malacca Straits and to the South China Sea for about $50,000 per voyage.
BARS employs 60 former members of military units from Singapore and elsewhere, who carry out their escort missions armed with M-16 and M-4 assault rifles. In what should be a fairly transparent operation to bordering countries – providing free security and allowing local coastal patrols to conduct other missions – has run into a security director that not only threatens to arrest them but has called them terrorists.
Othman told the Bernama news agency that directives had been issued to all marine police commanders to detain any such boat and arrest the crew members if it encroached into Malaysian waters.
The crew could be categorised as “terrorists” or “mercenaries” and charged under the Internal Security Act, he said. “They have no power in this country and it is a violation of our territorial sovereignty.”
Any private security company wishing to operate in Malaysia would have to obtain a permit from his ministry, Othman said. Malaysia’s marine police were prepared to provide escort services and were already guarding Japanese-owned merchant ships which were carrying high value cargoes as they passed through the strait, he said.
That raises a very large BS flag in my mind.
If Othman is claiming possible encroachment into Malaysian waters by BARS (a questionable claim, the transit channel is in international waters), why isn’t his own marine police experiencing the same as they pass by Indonesian and Singaporean waters enroute the South China Sea? Secondly, and noting the highlighted section above, Othman is requiring BARS “to obtain a permit from his ministry.” And I suspect he is damm upset he has received competition that would cut into any renumeration he receives for the escort services he is providing.
Given the endemic corruption in all South East Asian countries, Malaysia included, I smell a very large sea-going rat in the person of internal security Director Othman Talib. Considering the importance of the Malacca Straits in international commerce it may be time to launch an investigation into Othman’s operation.
Cross posted On the Third Hand