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Singapore's defense minister flags concerns on maritime security threats

Singapore — Global maritime threats are persisting, and more work needs to be done to tackle new security challenges decisively and ensure that terrorism does not become endemic in parts of Southeast Asia, Singapore's defense minister Ng Eng Hen said Tuesday.

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"Collectively, we need to step up intelligence efforts as the center of gravity of global terrorism shifts away from the Middle East and moves to other regions," Ng said at the Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference, or IMDEX, in Singapore.

The minister's comments come after the UAE government on Sunday said four commercial ships suffered sabotage off the coast of Fujairah.

Ship operator Thome Group said one of the ships hit was its oil tanker, the MT Andrea Victory. Saudi Arabia's oil minister Khalid al-Falih also condemned the "sabotage attack" on Sunday, saying that two of the ships affected near Fujairah were oil tankers from his country.

While Ng did not comment on the incident, he highlighted the maritime security concerns that have implications on the global shipping lanes.

"There are dark clouds on the horizon that can threaten global maritime [commerce] and shared prosperity," Ng said.

Recent attacks in Surabaya and Puchong "are grave warnings that terrorism can become endemic in the region, unless we come together to deal with the threat decisively," he said.

Last week, anti-piracy watchdog Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, or ReCAAP, retained its advisory to all ships to reroute from the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah, where possible.

Despite global uncertainties, including trade disputes and security tensions, trade volumes through the seas have been going up and are likely to rise further, Ng said.

Disruption of vital supply lines will be devastating and a strong consensus is needed on common rules for use of the seas, he added.

Fujairah, the UAE port where the sabotage incident occurred, is near the Straits of Hormuz, the world's biggest crude shipping chokepoint.

Similarly, Singapore is at the confluence of two key arterial networks, Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea. Around 1,000 ships, or 25% of all globally traded goods, pass through Singapore daily.

Both Fujairah and Singapore are global hubs for container ships and bunkering and their security is seen as crucial to global trade.

Global container throughput is projected to grow by 4% annually to generate earnings of $25 billion, Ng said.

Different rules adopted by various countries in the ASEAN region to govern maritime commons is a matter of concern, the minister said, adding that these relate to not only freedom of navigation but also territorial claims on fisheries and other resources.

--Sameer C. Mohindru, sameer.mohindru@spglobal.com

--Edited by Shashwat Pradhan, shashwat.pradhan@spglobal.com