This article is part of Conceptualization of “Maritime Security” in Southeast Asia, a series of analyses produced by experts convened by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

“Maritime security” in Singapore’s national language

While Malay is Singapore’s national language, English is one of four “official” languages – along with Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. English is the working language of the government and is used in all official policy documents. As such, usage of term “maritime security” is in line with common definitions of the term in other English-speaking countries.

Singapore’s official definition for and usage of maritime security

The is no publicly available official definition of maritime security in Singapore. Despite a lack of a national definition, there is arguably some consensus within the Singapore government on what maritime security entails. Recognizing the need for a whole-of-government approach to deal with maritime security threats and challenges, the Singapore government set up the maritime security task force (MSTF)/Maritime Security Command led by the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) in 2009. Singapore perceives maritime security to include both traditional and non-traditional maritime threats. The MSTF is organized into two operations groups to cover the broad variety of maritime threats:[1]

  1. Sea Security Group (SSG). The SSG is responsible for maritime security operations in waters around Singapore. This includes daily patrols, boarding and escort operations in the Singapore Strait and surveillance over waters. In the event of a maritime incident, the SSG works closely with the SMCC to coordinate operations with other national agencies.
  2. Force Protection Group (FPG). The FPG defends against seaward threats and is responsible for the defense and enforcement of security at naval bases and installations.

However, a national definition of maritime security and/or a maritime security strategy will help provide clearer strategic context and national priorities. These will allow the different stakeholders and agencies to better contextualize their individual roles and responsibilities within the broader national interests.

Singapore’s key documents for defining and understanding maritime security

There is no official document that defines maritime security in Singapore. The whole-of-government approach to maritime security however is evident in the two mechanisms available to coordinate inter-agency response to maritime threats.

National Maritime Security System:  Established in 2011, the National Maritime Security System provides a framework to facilitate the detection and monitoring of maritime security threats and the coordination of operational responses.[2] In addition, the Permanent Secretaries of Defence and Home Affairs co-chair the Homefront Crisis Executive Group (HCEG) (MARSEC) to facilitate wider coordination at the national level. Operationally, the Chief of Navy leads the Crisis Management Group (CMG) (MARSEC), to ensure a unified command and control during operations.

Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre (SMCC): Fully operational since 2013, the SMCC serves the role of a coordinator within the wider CMG (MARSEC).[3] It comprises incident managers from various national maritime security agencies like the RSN, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, Police Coast Guard, and Singapore Customs to strengthen inter-agency cooperation in threat assessment, traning and exercises, capacity development, and operational planning etc.  The SMCC’s goal is to strengthen operational coordination and minimize duplication of efforts during a maritime security emergency.

Elements of Singapore’s approach to maritime security. Environmental protection, mariner safety, fisheries management, resource management (other than fisheries), counter-terrorism, law enforcement, naval operations, deterrence?

There is no unified document outlining the elements which constitute maritime security for Singapore. Through official speeches, documents and government websites, securing sea lines of communications to ensure freedom of navigation and guarding against maritime terrorism are the two key aspects of Singapore’s maritime security strategy.[4] Nevertheless, Singapore is also concerned with issues including piracy and armed robbery at sea, and criminal activities at sea, etc. during peace time.[5] The Singapore navy actively cooperates with regional navies to combat these wide arrays of challenges through the information fusion center (IFC).[6]

Evolution in Singapore’s usage of the term “maritime security”

The September 11 terror attack and the subsequent 2008 Mumbai terror attack arguably helped shaped Singapore’s perception of maritime security, highlighting the possibility of a terror threat from the sea. Successful maritime terrorism in Southeast Asia such as the SuperFerry 14 bombing by the Abu Sayyaf Group in February 2004 further highlighted the importance of maritime domain awareness and regional cooperation in ensuring maritime security, through mechanisms such as the IFC.

The Lloyd’s Joint War Risk Committee’s decision to list the Malacca straits as a war zone, resulting in a rise in insurance premiums for ships entering the Malacca straits in the early 2000s, also highlighted the importance of regional cooperation in tackling maritime security threats such as piracy and armed robbery at sea. The Malacca Straits Sea Patrol was established in 2004 to address the rising incidence of piracy and armed robbery, and its success contributed to the Lloyd’s Joint War Risk Committee’s decision to drop the classification of the Malacca Strait as a “war-risk area” in 2006.[7]

Additional context for Singapore

Singapore sits at the convergence of key global shipping routes and seaborne trade is the lifeblood of Singapore’s economy. Today, about 70% of the world’s maritime trade transits through the Singapore Strait and carries about 80% of the country’s food supplies.

Dependence on the sea for survival shapes Singapore’s view of maritime security. However, there appears to be a disconnect between maritime security and wider maritime culture in the country. While maritime security and efforts to defend these threats are led by the Navy, a separate effort is led by the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore to develop Singapore’s maritime eco-system into a premier International Maritime Center where ships hub and essential ancillary services in shipping, commerce, and logistics flourish.[8]  A national maritime strategy could help draw linkages between the two, to better identify how maritime security challenges threaten Singapore’s development as a maritime hub and how these threats can be mitigated.

[1] See Fact Sheet: Restructuring the RSN’s Capabilities to Strengthen Singapore’s Maritime Security Capabilities,

[2] See Fact Sheet: Safeguarding Singapore’s Maritime Security,!ut/p/z0/fc0xD4IwEAXg3-LA2FxBlBlxUCO4oKldTJVDi3goraD_3uLk5HR5L1_egQQBklSnz8rqhlTt8l5OD9Fmnix4GGSbSe7zeJfn68ksW26jKaxA_gduQVePh4xBnhqy-LIgbpoKLNk3k_X4pbmhxwl7wxQVDDvXGo_XyqKxrMUalUFXBNyPPF49yenxcP3oUJpw-BG0aZKeQd6VvTBNZQNi0CAGDeJX36_y-O7j0QeQwYOt/.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See for example Speech by Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, at the 12th International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference Asia Opening Ceremony, 14 May 2019,!ut/p/z1/rVJNb9QwEP0tHHL0epLNl5EQCgW1oKZb6Lbd5FI5yeQDEjt13A3598zucgJahIQvI795M_Pm2TznO54rue8aaTutZE_3LA8fos37swvwvatNsHUhudtuL4N3Vx9vo5Df8ZznY9lVPEMRYCTimIWyqpkfxR4TUpTMDd0qFCWKYl0e2KWyo215NnSqwpqVWllU1oFWD-iAwnliUlUM94RODvTS4mSZwR7lhAR44AoHBrk44PoUXPEwjYhly-__pjanNDxzEqD6_EjZfPbPXR-8y036JaAOQsRbuPbgPPpJeKFHRhqi5zVE_H7f4cxvlTYDGXzzj_5dAP90lPDClvRo3dfHxzwhrw_mfrd89__NpimeSc_ShvRL27JO1ZrvDnyaJhe–4VPspteF6dPlahiHVOlwRoNmtWTIbi1dpxeO-DAPM-rk-JVo_erqSEICwdGbazsSc8x58CE0pTt21N4k0rT2Y72cj24wfKJbsufhrV6Ikd-m8HHYYjXC_tWpx_Wfl4sc53aIEte_QDwQgRm/dz/d5/L2dBISEvZ0FBIS9nQSEh/?urile=wcm%3Apath%3A%2Fmindef-content%2Fhome%2Fnews-and-events%2Flatest-releases%2F2019%2FMay%2F14may19_speech

[5] See

[6] See

[7] See

[8] See

About YingHui Lee

Lee YingHui is Associate Research Fellow with the Maritime Security Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Her main research interests are in maritime security and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, maritime trade, blue economy, and the South China Sea.