Batu Puteh goes to Singapore - Malaysiakini
May 23, 08 5:54pm
The International Court of Justice has decided in favour of Singapore in a 28-year sovereignty dispute with Malaysia over Pulau Batu Puteh - a tiny but strategic uninhabited island the size of half a football field.
The 16-member panel handed a 12 to 4 judgment against Malaysia which had claimed ownership of the island which sits at the entrance of the heavily- used Singapore Strait.
"The court by 12 votes to four, finds that sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh belongs to the Republic of Singapore," said presiding judge Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh at the end of his two-hour oral judgment.The granite island is considered important for its strategic position and impact on territorial marine boundaries. It lies 7.7 nautical miles off Johor on the eastern approach to the Singapore Strait from the South China Sea [see map below].
However, the 16-member panel in a 15 to 1 decision said Malaysia has sovereignty over one of the island's two rocky outcrops - Middle Rocks, which lies south of Pulau Batu Puteh.
On the other outcrop named South Ledge, the court handed a 15 to 1 judgment stating that it belonged to "the state in the territorial waters of which it is located".
The court however did not specify whether the territorial waters mentioned were Malaysia's or Singapore's.
Singapore operates lighthouse for 130 years
Malaysia claimed original title to Pulau Batu Puteh (left), while Singapore, which knows the islet as Pedra Branca argued that sovereignty had passed to it tacitly, having operated the Horsburgh Lighthouse on the island for more than 130 years without any protest from its neighbour.
The court found that the Malaysian sultanate-turned-province of Johor had held the original title but had taken "no action at all" regarding the island for more than a century."The court concludes ... that by 1980 sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh had passed to Singapore," Al-Khasawneh said.
The dispute over Pulau Batu Puteh came to the fore when Singapore protested in 1980 against a new Malaysian map of its maritime boundaries which claimed the islet for itself.Years of bilateral talks failed to resolve the matter and the parties agreed to seek the intervention of the United Nations' highest court.
Inconclusive decision over South Ledge
As for Middle Rocks (left), the court said the circumstances involving this piece of rock are different from Pulau Batu Puteh.
"It therefore finds that original title to Middle Rocks should remain with Malaysia as the successor to the Sultanate of Johor," ruled the court.
But South Ledge (right), a small rock visible only at low tide, would now fall "within the apparently overlapping territorial waters generated by the mainland of Malaysia, Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, and Middle Rocks," said the judges.
"... the court has not been mandated by the parties to draw the line of delimitation with respect to the territorial waters of Malaysia and Singapore in the area in question."Recalling that it has not been mandated by the parties to draw the line of delimitation with respect to their territorial waters in the area, the court concludes that sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the state in the territorial waters of which it is located," said Al-Khasawneh.
Rais: Win-win for both countries
Both countries have said today's ruling would not affect relations.
On a website dedicated to the island dispute, the Malaysian government claims the original title.
"Pulau Batu Puteh is, and has always been, part of the Malaysian State of Johor," it says. "Nothing has happened to displace Malaysia's sovereignty over it.
Singapore says its economic well-being depends on its status as a major port of call, which in turn relies on the smooth flow of maritime traffic through the Singapore Strait.In an immediate reaction, Foreign Minister Rais Yatim, who was in court when the judgment was delivered in The Hague, said that it was a "win-win situation" for both nations.
Both countries welcomed the ruling, with Malaysia describing its title over Middle Rocks as a victory.
"We said we would create a special commission to implement the ICJ ruling, perhaps it could also establish the status of South Ledge," said Rais.
"I want to say the status of all three rocks will remain as it is now."
Singapore 'very pleased' with outcome
In its argument to the court, Malaysia had claimed original title to Pulau Batu Puteh, contending that "Singapore's presence on the island for the sole purpose of constructing and maintaining a lighthouse there ... is insufficient to vest sovereignty in it."
Singapore had argued that while still under the British rule, it took lawful possession of Pedra Branca from the mid-19th century when construction of the lighthouse started.
Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister S Jayakumar said today his country was "very pleased" with the outcome.
"Singapore wanted the sovereignty over Pedra Branca and obtained it. Of course, we would be happier if we had had all three islands but what is very important is that the dispute is now resolved."
Bilateral ties have often been tense since Singapore left the Malaysian Federation over ethnic issues in 1965.
As the highest judicial organ of the United Nations, The Hague-based ICJ settles differences between member states. Its rulings are final and without appeal but the court has no means of enforcing them.