Sunday, January 31, 2016

[Singapore Islands] Pedra Branca

Pedra Branca: The Book (Amazon)

In the past, Pedra Branca was every sailor's nightmare. But in 1979, Malaysia and Singapore clambered over this rocky outcrop, together with two other outcrop called Middle Rocks and South Ledge. The deliberations and discussions as to who owns Pedra Branca and the other outcrop spanned more than a decade. The two governments then agreed to allow the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to determine who has the sovereignty over these outcrop. (Jeyakumar and Koh, 2009)

The book - Pedra Branca - published in 2009 had also prove to be a very good read.

As of February 3, 2017, Malaysia has lodged an appeal to the ICJ to revise the previous ruling made. The Malaysian government has said that they have discovered three new documents from the United Kingdom National Archive. (Naidu, Feb 2017)

The three documents are:-

1. An internal correspondence of the Singapore colonial authorities in 1958
2. an incident report filed in 1958 by a British naval officer and
3. an annotated map of naval operations from the 1960s

[Update: 12 Aug 2017]: Malaysia has even built a base on the Middle Rocks to stake their sovereignty over the rock outcrop.


So why is this situation so important to both countries? Well, the first reason is about sovereignty. In a very basic playground talk, "If it's mine, it's mine". Also, though Pedra Branca may be just a small outcrop, occupying it will mean having control of the maritime movement in and out of the Straits of Singapore.


1.  Most Easterly Island of Singapore

Pedra Branca (Pulau Batu Puteh as it is known in Malaysia or the former Coney Island) is the eastern most point of Singapore. It's situated at approximately 24 nautical miles to the east of Singapore. The island is actually closer to Indonesia's Bintan Island than to Singapore. (ibid)

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

2. It's all about rocks and stones

The British erected a lighthouse on Pedra Branca in 1850 and named it after the late Captain James Horsburgh, a navigator and hydrographer. (Koh and Chew) Pedra Branca itself is an uninhabited "reef of white stone-rocks of granite". (Cornelius-Takahama)  The granite stones used to build the lighthouse came from the granite quarry of Pulau Ubin. (Koh and Chew)

Aerial View of Pedra Branca. Source: China Post

3. Invited and Uninvited Dignitaries

When the foundation stone was laid on May 24, 1850 to commemorate the Queen's birthday. British dignitaries including government officials, naval personnel, foreign consuls and merchants graced the launch. (The Straits Times)

Fast forward to 1998. Relation between Malaysia and Singapore were going through a rough patch as both countries were fighting over who had the sovereign rights over Pedra Branca. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir tried to get close to the outcrop but was then warned by the Singapore Navy to stay away, in which he did to prevent any potential skirmishes. (Hussein, 2009)

A litograph by J. T. Turnbull and T. Picken produced in 1850. (Horsburgh Lighthouse)

References Accessed on January 30, 2016. Retrieved from,204,203,200_.jpg

Cornelius-Takahama, V. Pedra Branca. Singapore Infopedia. Accessed on January 31, 2016.

Foo, Y. C. May 24, 2008. World Court rules Singapore owns strategic isle. China Post.

Horsburgh Lighthouse. University of Otago. Accessed on January 31, 2016.

Hussein, Z. December 20, 2008. Pedra Branca: Behind the scenes. The Straits Times. P26.

Jayakumar, S. & Koh, T. (2009). Pedra Branca. The road to the world court. NUS Press: Singapore. P 161.

ibid. P162

Koh, Q. R. V and Chew, V. Horsburgh Lighthouse. Singapore Infopedia. Accessed on January 31, 2016.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Accessed on January 30, 2016.

Naidu, S. (February 4, 2017). 3 UK documents cited for Malaysia's application to revise Pedra Branca decision. Channel News Asia. Accssed on February 4, 2017.

The Horsburgh Lighthouse. May 28, 1850. The Straits Times.

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