On August 10, Malaysia deployed the first ship to a new maritime base it had opened in Middle Rocks near Pedra Branca, an outlying island now under the jurisdiction of neighboring Singapore but which Kuala Lumpur still believes is part of its territory. The development was read as just the latest move that Malaysia has taken to reinforce its seriousness in preserving the country’s sovereignty just as the government gears up for the next general election.
As I noted last week, on August 1, Malaysia had publicly unveiled the new Abu Bakar Maritime Base, built on the Malaysian-owned Middle Rocks – which consists of two clusters of rocks and lies just one kilometer away from Predra Branca (See: “Malaysia Reveals New Maritime Base Near Disputed Island With Singapore”). The facility, which comprises two buildings around 316.6 meters apart, including a jetty, a lighthouse, and a helicopter landing pad, was billed as part of an effort to safeguard Malaysia’s sovereignty and conducting marine scientific research.
Even though the facility had actually been completed almost a year ago and will likely do very little to affect either the actual outcome of Malaysia’s bid for a revision of the Pedra Branca ruling back in 2008 or the general military balance at play between the two countries, some had worried about further complications being added to a historically rocky bilateral relationship (See: “The Danger of Najibizing Malaysia’s Foreign Policy”).
On Thursday, the first Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) ship berthed at Abu Bakar Maritime Base ten days after its unveiling. The arrival of KD Perdana, a 47-meter long fast-attack craft that can carry a crew of up to 30 and was first commissioned over four decades ago, was confirmed by Malaysia’s navy chief Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin, who issued a congratulatory message to the crew over Twitter.
No further details were publicly disclosed on the Perdana’s arrival as well as what we might expect regarding similar developments in the near future related to Abu Bakar Maritime Base. But the navy chief told The Straits Times that the Perdana, though not permanently positioned at the base, would still frequent it and carry out patrols in the area with other vessels to ensure maritime security.
In May, the Perdana was involved in an incident where a communication breakdown led to it losing contact with a boarding team boat carrying nine sailors that had been launched to check on foreign fishing vessels suspected of illegal activities. The sailors were eventually found by a Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Beechcraft aircraft about 90 miles off of the east coast of Kuantan following a search mission.