This article is part of the ‘Blue Security’ project led by La Trobe Asia, University of Western Australia Defence and Security Institute, Griffith Asia Institute, UNSW Canberra and the Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy and Defence Dialogue (AP4D). Views expressed are solely of its author/s and not representative of the Maritime Exchange, the Australian Government, or any collaboration partner country government.

What are the maritime governance priorities for Singapore?

Singapore’s current maritime governance priorities are to enlarge and upgrade its naval capabilities with advanced technologies that will allow for multi-role, multi-mission, cyber defense and drone-operated vessels and to enhance regional-led maritime cooperation such that it can better manage the stresses on today’s strained geopolitical environment.[1] The security of the critical sea lines of communication from conventional and non-conventional threats remains the priority.

What does Singapore see as the most critical maritime security challenges?

Despite being a small island state with zero strategic depth, Singapore has one of Southeast Asia’s most capable and modern militaries.[2] In fact, it has enough assets in ships and personnel to provide excellent coverage to its comparatively tiny geography and smaller maritime zone of policing.[3] Consequently, Singapore has a robust maritime enforcement capability and a border security force that can deter maritime threats and protect its coastal borders. Still, congestion and proximity to waters less-well governed means Singapore’s boundary waters remain prone to various maritime incidents and crime.[4] Having largely managed non-traditional security threats such as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, illegal human migration, and illegal maritime smuggling of goods, the Singapore government is more concerned with geostrategic issues. This is reflected in the focus on military strength and cooperative diplomacy. This is not to say that Singapore views non-traditional security concerns as insignificant. Furthermore, the government does not clearly define what they view as their most pressing maritime threat, so this must be analytically deduced.[5]

Geostrategic concerns are not just military, but also economic in nature due to Singapore’s outsized economy. The freedom of movement in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore is potentially vulnerable to physical disruption through narrow congested trade routes.[6] It was estimated in 2016 that any disruption in the Strait would cost the global economy over $200 billion per year and, thus, Singapore is also hyperconscious of the importance of its waters to the global economy.[7] Singapore’s maritime and institutional capacity is capable, but its small size limits the extent to which the government could respond if a major event were to halt all maritime flows through the Strait.

The Tuas Mega Port, once fully operational in the 2040s, will further intensify the current challenges of security resource allocation. The Mega Port is planned to be the world’s largest fully automated port and will consolidate the four terminals of the Port of Singapore: Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal, Keppel Brani, Pasir Panjang Terminal 1, and Pasir Panjang Terminal 2.[8] In parallel with this infrastructure modernization, Singapore is looking towards new technologies to better augment and enhance its maritime capacity.[9]

What are the maritime governance strengths of Singapore?                                               

Singapore’s strength lies in the mature institutional cooperation between its various maritime governing agencies.[10] The effectiveness of its modern police coast guard and naval fleet can only be maximised with proper interservice communication and synergy.[11] Institutions like the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore works closely with shipping industries; the Singapore Police Coast Guard cooperates with other maritime security agencies; and the Republic of Singapore Navy collaborates with other responsible agencies to ensure that maritime security operations remain highly vigilant in the Singapore Strait.[12] Hence, Maritime Domain Awareness is another national strength. On the judicial front, maritime crime is dealt with by Singapore’s maritime law, which offers an additional degree of inter-governmental familiarity as it shares its roots with English common law.[13]

Furthermore, the government has set up sophisticated information centers to streamline intelligence processes and to create a “Whole-of-Government” strategic framework such as the National Maritime Security System.[14] Key institutions that develop, process and share Singapore’s maritime information include the Maritime Security Task Force[15] and the Information Fusion Centre, both established in 2009. In 2011, the National Maritime Security System was established, and the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre in 2013 further bolstered Singapore’s inter-institutional cooperation, synergy, and enforcement. These maritime communication and awareness centers also encourage inter-governmental cooperation with other like-minded stakeholders to further foster not only bilateral and multilateral ties between Singapore and the member-participants, but to act as a force multiplier to enhance the effectiveness of Singapore’s operational force.[16]

What are the most significant maritime governance capacity gaps of Singapore?

It is difficult to see meaningful gaps in Singapore’s maritime governance given the strength and maturity of its institutions and processes. However, Singapore continues to suffer from vulnerabilities stemming from its geographical position and size.[17]

The key potential vulnerability is Singapore’s geographical position of being sandwiched between Malaysia and Indonesia, which makes the state vulnerable to actions of either party (i.e. blockade). Singapore’s lack of a complete 12nm territorial sea exacerbates this vulnerability.[18]

Likewise, whilst it is unlikely that another state actor will invade Singapore, its small geographical size does limit the number of ports it can have. As Singapore is a relatively small island, it can be easily blockaded, as aforementioned. Once the number of ports and marine terminals is consolidated at the Tuas Mega Port, it will be even more vulnerable to cyberattacks as a result of the port’s sheer size and its advanced automated facilities.[19] The lack of geographical space for ports limits the flexibility of the Singaporean maritime enforcement agencies and heightens the vulnerability of sabotage.

Therefore, its strategic location is a double-edged sword. Singapore’s geography makes it a tempting potential target for other malicious actors. Singapore is worried about acts of maritime terrorism, where non-state actors hold no allegiance to any state flag and exploit areas of vulnerability.[20] A strike on the Port of Singapore or the Jurong Port would grind maritime commerce to a near halt, as cargo vessels would be forced to reroute to a safer location to avoid potential secondary attacks.[21] 90% of global trade is done through the maritime domain, of which 70% passes through the Singapore Strait.[22] An attack on either ports would heavily disrupt Singapore’s economy, as 7% of Singapore’s GDP comes from maritime industry.[23]

Moreover, whilst Singapore’s maritime security is comparatively strong, that of its regional neighbours is not, and Singapore’s economy still remains vulnerable to regional affairs that may affect the economy of Singapore.  Poor maritime governance in other nations has a ripple effect on Singapore.[24]

What are priority areas for international cooperation that would improve maritime governance capacity in Singapore?

As mentioned, one of Singapore’s greatest maritime strengths is its established relationship and cooperation with various maritime and intelligence agencies. This in itself can be further expanded to international cooperation. The IFC, for example, already boasts connections with 43 partner-states across the globe and 11 international shipping associations, facilitating engagement between the various stakeholders in real-time.[25] The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) hosts 21 partner-states and eight international organizations to combat the threat of maritime piracy and armed robbery across the Indo-Pacific. With an integrated communications infrastructure, Singapore is one of the few states in the region where international or inter-institutional cooperation is not deficient. Rather, what Singapore could examine is expanding its cooperative expertise with its neighbours to improve inter-state communication capabilities and ensure a healthy relationship with extra-regional powers.[26] Examples include collaborating with the EU’s Critical Maritime Routes in the Indian Ocean on enhancing information sharing in the Indian Ocean, and participating in Combined Task Force 151 to guard against maritime piracy and armed robbery in Gulf of Aden.[27] Singapore, therefore, takes a proactive role as a security partner in international maritime governance.

How can existing regional and minilateral security frameworks contribute to maritime governance in Singapore?

A safer and more secure Southeast Asia would not only reassure Singapore but also relieve stress on the region’s maritime security capacity. Given the difficulties related to finding consensus within ASEAN, minilateral cooperation among ASEAN members and with extra-regional partners has proved helpful toward the creation of tailored solutions.[28] Currently, Malaysia and Indonesia are the chief states within the region with which Singapore cooperates on maritime security and governance. The Malacca Straits Patrol, Five Power Defence Arrangements, and the CORPAT INDOSIN are a few examples of arrangement which include Singapore and one or both of its neighbours.[29] However, it would also benefit Singapore if ASEAN’s maritime security as a collective whole was enhanced. The March 2023 ReCAAP report suggests that more still needs to be done for the littoral states to increase surveillance, patrols and timeliness of collaborated reporting.[30] The first ASEAN Coast Guard Forum in 2022 gives Singapore a good benchmark in expanding minilateral cooperation into a multilateral one.[31] Singapore, nevertheless, must still be cautious to ensure that maritime competition does not escalate between ASEAN claimants or China, due to current trust deficits and capability mismatch,[32] nor is Singapore itself immune to the immediate military challenge of the regional maritime space despite not being part of any disputes in the South China Sea.[33]

[1] National Archives Singapore 2017, Fact Sheet: Safeguarding Singapore’s Maritime Security, (2017).; and Wingrove, Martyn. “Cyber-Security Testbed Developed in Singapore.” Riviera Maritime Media, November 3, 2022.; and Yeo, Mike. “Singapore Buys Six Combat Vessels That Can Serve as Drone Motherships.” Defense News, March 28, 2023.; and MPA SG, Singapore Maritime Institute partners stakeholders in R&D collaborations to drive maritime digitalisation and artificial intelligence, (2022).

[2] SG101, Eng Hen Ng, Overview: Current Threats, (n.d.).

[3] “63% of All South-East Asia Incidents Took Place within the Singapore Strait.” Risk Intelligence, 2022.

[4] Koh, Collin. “Second Amongst Equals? The Police Coast Guard within Singapore’s Maritime Security Architecture.” Korea Institute for Maritime Strategy, no. 2022–10 (October 2022): pp. 15.

[5] Ministry of Defence, Fact Sheet: Safeguarding Singapore’s Maritime Trade and Industry, (2018).

[6] “Speech by Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, at the 12th International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference Asia Opening Ceremony.” In IMDEX Asia 2019. Singapore: MinDef Singapore 2019, 2019.!ut/p/z1/rZJNU9swEIZ_Sw8-Klo7_hI3Ax1oJ05oSSDWhVHs9UdrS46txvDvu0l7gQE6nUEXjVbv7jx6X3HJt1xqdWgqZRujVUvnTIYP0ery4hp8b7kK1i4kd-v1IjhfftlEIb_jkss-bwqeoQgwEnHMQlWUzI9ijwklcuaGbhGKHMVunh_Vuba9rXnWNbrAkuVGW9TWgdp06IDGaWRKFwwPVB0daJXF0bIBW1QjUsEDVzjQqScHXJ82VzyMPWJe8_t_0Uq6hjdWAtQvT5LVN__K9cFbrNLvAU0QIl7DjQdX0V_BOzMyYojeZoj4_aHBiW-0GToy-PY__bsG_vWE8M4rKTRvSC_SiiYrW7NGl4Zvj7bxLfnFty9sI33zY7-XCWVzDOPRku7DwyHsqjW7P58q0bt5THwDljjgMPs1ULm2th_PHHBgmqZZZUzV4iw3nQOvtdRmJM7nSt53XTx_Yj_L9PPcl9nNokxtkCWffgNdfqGj/dz/d5/L2dBISEvZ0FBIS9nQSEh/?urile=wcm%3Apath%3A%2Fmindef-content%2Fhome%2Fnews-and-events%2Flatest-releases%2F2019%2FMay%2F14may19_speech

[7] Ahmad Almaududy Amri, pp. 115

[8] Kumar, Shashi. “Guide To Tuas Mega Port – World’s Largest Fully Automated Port In Our Backyard.” DollarsAndSense Business, July 13, 2023.

[9] Turner, Julian. “Destination Singapore: Behind the Rise of the World’s Top Shipping Centre.” Ship Technology, October 24, 2019.

[10] Guo, Daniel Kho Zhi. “To What Extent Can Singapore’s Maritime Security Outlook Be Considered as Exceptional within Southeast Asia? .” Pointer, Journal of the Singapore Armed Forces 42, no. 3 (2016): pp. 7–10.

[11] Lee, Yinghui. “Singapore’s Conceptualization of Maritime Security.” CSIS, December 1, 2021.

[12] Ministry of Defence, Fact Sheet: Collaborative Efforts between Singapore Enforcement Agencies Ensure Security of Singapore Waters, (2022).!ut/p/z1/rZJNU9swEIZ_Sw8-KrtW_JXeDO0kMDFpaQBbF0Z25I_UloItYvLv2QAHOlNgmEEnafXs7ruvBAJSEFrum0raxmjZ0jkTwW24-nG6QI9frPy1i_H1er30Ty7OrsIArkGA2BXNBrLCneVhHoSskK7HPB4ELIo2LotyX3LllVxheaQLbXe2hqxr9EaVrDDaKm0drE2nHNRqHJjUG6b2FB0cbKVVg2W9apUcFAU4cu7gVup72R8cdCPacn5bDnDzkVpB1_jGipHyxROy-u3NXQ_5cpVc-lRhNovW-IvjPHwB3qmRkYbwbQ0h3OwbNcKVNn1HBv_5pH8LhPMnCe9MSY_WbO_uRExeH819sJB-vdnUhffJaVKRfmlr1ujSQHrkIX3hIX3Fk-yqNfnzp4p1Po0os1el6lU_ue8pXFu7G7476OA4jpPKmKpVk8J0Dv4vpTYDzfUvCbuui6YH9rdMfk49kR_GMrF-Fn97BLPhoeQ!/dz/d5/L2dBISEvZ0FBIS9nQSEh/?urile=wcm%3Apath%3A%2Fmindef-content%2Fhome%2Fnews-and-events%2Flatest-releases%2F2022%2FJanuary%2F18jan22_fs; and Marini, Martin. “IP23005 | The Maritime Security Roles of Port Authorities in Southeast Asia.” RSIS, January 11, 2023.

[13] “Singapore: An Overview of Shipping Law .” Singapore Academy of Law. Singapore, Singapore, Singapore: Singapore Academy of Law, March 2021, pp, 7-12.

[14] National Archives Singapore 2017, pp. 1-2; and Koh, Collin. “Singapore’s Maritime Security Approach.” Grey and White Hulls, September 26, 2019, pp. 95–99.

[15] National Archives Singapore 2017, pp. 3

[16] Koh, Fabian. “Regional Maritime Security Requires International Cooperation: Zaqy Mohamad.” The Straits Times, March 10, 2021.

[17] Ministry of Defence: Fact Sheet 2018, pp. 1-2; and National Archives Singapore 2018, ACCORD Witnesses the Navy’s Maritime Security Operations to Keep Singapore Safe and Secure, (2018).

[18] Collin Koh, pp. 6-7

[19] “Singapore: Satellite Map of Ports.” World Port Source. World Port Source, 2023.

[20] Collin Koh, pp. 7-9; and Amri, Ahmad Almaududy. “Maritime Security Challenges in Southeast Asia: Analysis of International and Regional Legal Frameworks and Regional Legal Frameworks .” Dissertation, University of Wollongong, 2016. Pp. 112-116.

[21]Daniel Kho Zhi Guo, pp. 7-8

[22] Ng, Shi Chin. “Vulnerability of Port of Singapore as a Maritime Hub Due to Impact of International Trade Affairs.” Dissertation, NTU, 2019.

[23] Ibid 1-2; and Ministry of Education, Maritime Industry, (2023).

[24] Mohindru, Sameer C. “Singapore’s Defense Minister Flags Concerns on Maritime Security Threats .” S&P Global, May 15, 2019.

[25] “Speech by Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How at the 8th International Maritime Security Conference (IMSC) 2023.” In International Maritime Security Conference (IMSC) 2023 . Singapore: MinDef Singapore, 2023.; and Ministry of Defence: Fact Sheet 2022

[26] Ministry of Defence, News: Singapore Co-Hosts ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise, (2023).; and Ministry of Defence, News: Singapore and Chinese Navies Conduct Bilateral Maritime Exercise, (2023).; and Department of State, U.S. Security Cooperation With Singapore, (2023).

[27] “IFC Singapore and EU CRIMARIO Discuss Maritime Information Sharing in Indian Ocean and Asia.” CRIMARIO II. CRIMARIO II, July 9, 2020.; and Sim, Li-Chen. “Singapore’s Relations with the Gulf: From Defensive to Positive Engagement.” Asian Security 18, no. 3 (August 3, 2022): pp. 262–65.

[28] Lin, Joanne, and Laura Lee. “Minilateral Cooperation in ASEAN May Help It Overcome Challenges in Multilateralism.” Fulcrum, March 16, 2023.

[29] Singapore, Special Report on Incidents Involving Tug Boats and Barges in Singapore Strait, ReCAAP 2023 (2023).; and MinDef Singapore 2023; and Ministry of Defence, Fact Sheet 2022

[30] ReCAAP 2023, pp. 9-10

[31] “First ASEAN Coast Guard Forum Takes Place in Indonesia.” Vietnam Pictorial, November 24, 2022.

[32] Anderson , Megan . “The Malacca Strait Patrol: A Maritime Security Network Analysis.” ResearchGate, February 2016, pp. 6–10.

[33] Eng Hen Ng

About Say Xian Hong

Say Xian Hong graduated from Curtin University, Australia, with a Master's in International Relations. He has worked as a Research Analysis for the Maritime Security Program at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and an intern for Future Directions International, Perth, Western Australia. He has a keen interest in the developments of the maritime environment in Southeast Asia, alongside ongoing political and military developments in China, Europe, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.