By William H. Watson
For the third time nearly five years, the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) has stepped down from a three-month command of the multi-national Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, after coordinating operations to deter and disrupt maritime organized crime in the Gulf of Aden as part of international counter-piracy efforts.
The fact that there were no successful hijacking incidents in the CTF 151’s area of responsibility during Singapore’s naval leadership is only part of the story of its success. This is particularly so since—much closer to home—piracy remains a problem in the Strait of Malacca, itself narrow (unlike the vast Indian Ocean), containing thousands of islets, and an outlet for scores of rivers.
Those who know Singapore’s history—something we try to cultivate at the AdvanFort Company— remember with awe the country’s founding patriot, Lee Kuan Yew, who served as prime minister between 1959 and 1990. The title of one of the books written by this Cambridge-educated peer of other heroes such as South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and India’s Mahnomen Singh encapsulates Singapore’s own contribution to global counter piracy: From Third World to First.
Since early 2009, Singapore contributions to CTF 151 counter-piracy operations have included the deployment of three Command Teams, four Task Groups, and a frigate with a naval helicopter. In their last command position, nearly 50 Singaporeans worked side-by-side naval personnel from Australia, Brunei, France, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, United States, United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam.
Multinational collaborative efforts also include those with counter-piracy forces from the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR), NATO, the navies from China, India, Japan and Republic of Korea, as well as regional security authorities in the Gulf of Aden.
While “interconnectedness” is a buzzword in many command posts as well as in boardrooms, the truth of that reality—and its importance to all of us—was brought home by Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Defence, Chan Chun Sing, at the opening ceremony last month of the 3rd International Maritime Security Conference (IMSC), attended by some 350 maritime experts, held as part of IMDEX Asia.
“With more than half of the world’s oil supply passing through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, any disruption to the straits will affect the global economy, with direct implications on our region’s security and economic well-being, and I am sure it will also impact the rest of the world,” the minister noted.
“It is therefore in our collective interest to ensure that key sea lines of communication remain open and secure,” he added.
The continuing threat to ship owners and mariners who ply the 550- mile sea lane continues along this passageway (vital to both China and India), although in recent years, Singapore’s coordinated patrols with Indonesia and Malaysia, together with increased private (PMSC) security on vessels, have helped reign in the threat, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
As commerce between Europe, the Suez Canal, oil exporters in the Persian Gulf, and East Asian ports continues to soar, such cooperation remains key to a more just and peaceful world.
When Rear-Admiral (RADM) Giam Hock Koon of the RSN handed over command of CTF 151 to Commodore Muhammad Ihsan Qadir of the Pakistan Navy, he underscored the city republic’s commitment to making sure international trade is uninterrupted along critical waterways such the Gulf of Aden.
“As a maritime nation, Singapore will continue to play its part to ensure the freedom of navigation and safety of shipping,” he promised.
From the world’s fourth-leading financial center whose port is one of the five busiest around the globe, the highly-urbanized island country leads by example.
It is a lesson those of us in private maritime security companies such as the AdvanFort Company, as well as those of other countries’ navies, appreciate as central to our reason for being.
Captain William H. Watson is president of the AdvanFort Company.