KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 — The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) sent a patrol ship into Johor Baru’s new port limits several times earlier this week, after Putrajaya’s offer to de-escalate the standoff in the contested waters off Johor.
According to a source familiar with the situation there, RSN’s RSS Unity — a 1,250-tonne Independence-class littoral mission vessel (LMV) fitted with at least a 76mm gun and anti-air missile system — was spotted there.
The only Malaysian ships in the waters were the anchored MV Polaris, a Malaysia Marine Department (MMD) civilian vessel providing safety of navigation, usually by laying buoys to mark territory or safety hazards, along with a patrolling Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) vessel.
The sightings of the Singaporean military vessel followed Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry saying on Monday it will take measures to de-escalate the situation with Singapore, ahead of a proposed bilateral talk next month.
Built by Singapore’s ST Marine, RSS Unity that bears the pennant number 17 is one of the RSN’s eight LMVs commissioned since last year and which can be configured for different missions.
The vessels reduce the number of crew needed per vessel from 30 to 23, to address the declining birth rate problem for the Singapore Armed Forces.
However, the RSS Unity was not the first Singapore’s military vessel to be spotted in the disputed waters.
On December 9, one day before Wisma Putra’s de-escalation offer, another Independence-class vessel, the RSS Independence with pennant number 15, was said to have surrounded MV Polaris together with four Singapore Police Coast Guard (PCG) patrol boats.
The sightings have been confirmed by a government agency that asked not to be identified due to the sensitivities surrounding the territorial dispute.
Singapore has repeatedly put the responsibility for any untoward incidents in the waters entirely on Malaysia, ignoring the presence of its own vessels there.
Singapore Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan even cautioned Putrajaya over its deployment of vessels to the area, saying this may prevent a positive outcome from the bilateral talks due next month.
Khaw released last week a video of MV Polaris to justify Singapore’s extension of its own Tuas port limits well into Johor Baru’s own limits.
He also claimed that there have been 14 intrusions by Malaysian vessels into Singapore’s claimed territorial waters off Tuas. Despite Khaw’s assertion, Malaysia does not consider its vessels to have encroached on Singapore’s territory as the area is still contested.
However, Singaporean vessels have also been spotted in the waters extending back to November 24, almost a month after Malaysia published the new port limits within its territorial waters on October 25, 2018.
Just four days after, a PCG vessel was said to have executed aggressive manoeuvres to deliberately block a patrolling MMEA vessel.
The first RSN vessel was spotted in the area on December 1. In comparison, the Royal Malaysian Navy has not sent any of its vessels into the area.
Malaysia has proposed to Singapore a mutual cease and desist from sending any assets into the disputed area by December 9. The proposal was rejected by Singapore.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysian vessels will remain in the disputed waters along the Malaysia-Singapore maritime border and will stay there until the negotiation process between the two countries is settled.
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