JB port limits issue 'can be resolved in the near future': Malaysian foreign minister

Video screenshot of a Malaysian vessel intruding into Singapore territorial waters. (FILE PHOTO: Mindef)

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah believes that there has been positive progress on the Johor Bahru port limits issue between Singapore and Malaysia, and that it can be resolved in the near future.

Malaysian news agency Bernama reported that Saifuddin made the remarks on Thursday (21 February) after officiating the opening of the new campus of the Kuala Lumpur International School in Ampang Hilir.

He mentioned eight issues concerning both countries, including the Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Seletar Airport, as well as the 1974 airspace agreement.

“For the moment, I see the Johor Baru Port Limits issue as being one of the eight involving relations between Malaysia and Singapore which can be resolved first,” he told reporters, according to Bernama.

“I believe there will be good relations with Singapore and the discussions will be smooth. On the port limits, it can be resolved in the near future compared to the water issue, which I expect to take more time as it is quite complicated.”

Singapore and Malaysia are embroiled in a maritime dispute was sparked by Malaysia’s unilateral decision to extend the Johor Bahru port limits‘ in October last year.

Subsequently, Malaysian government vessels have also intruded into Singapore waters off Tuas, for which the Republic lodged a “strong protest” with the Malaysian government.

Talks on water issue ‘overshadowed’

On Tuesday, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said that the attorneys-general of both countries met in December for talks on the price of raw water supplied by Malaysia to Singapore. However, MFA noted that the talks were the discussions were “overshadowed” by the recent maritime and airspace issues.

According to Bernama, Saifuddin said that talks on the water issue – which is based on the 1962 Water Agreement between the two countries – were conducted on a positive note, and that the government is optimistic about it even though more time is needed.

He had told reporters on Thursday, “On the water issue, I and the Singapore Foreign Minister are looking for a suitable date in the near future to meet and hold further discussions. The willingness of the Republic is very encouraging, compared to before when there was no progress.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad wants to review the terms of the 1962 Water Agreement, which expires in 2061.

The agreement entitles Singapore to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of water from the Johor River. Singapore pays RM0.03 (S$0.01) per thousand gallons of raw water and sells treated water back to Johor at RM0.50 per thousand gallons, a fraction of the cost of treating the water.

Johor is also entitled to a daily supply of treated water of up to 2 per cent or 5 million gallons a day of the water supplied to Singapore.

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