Defense chiefs from four Southeast Asian nations have agreed to begin coordinated air patrols over the pirate-infested Malacca Strait next week to quell foreign jitters about security in the world's busiest shipping lane, officials said yesterday.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand will each donate two aircraft for the "Eyes in the Sky" plan, Indonesian navy Colonel Surya Wiranto told reporters during a two-day international conference in Jakarta about the 900km waterway.
The planes will begin regular patrols on Tuesday and will have one representative from each of the four nations on board, he said.
More than 50,000 ships, carrying half the world's oil and a third of its commerce, use the Malacca Strait each year.
The waterway, which is bordered by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, is infested by pirates and there are fears that international terrorists might target ships passing through it.
"We need eyes from the air to inform the officials below to fight piracy and other maritime crimes," said Wiranto, who is the assistant of operations for the Indonesian navy's western fleet. "The aircraft will only be allowed to patrol the waterway and will not be allowed to cross over to land."
Despite the mounting security concerns, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda on Wednesday criticized a decision by a leading international shipping insurer to include the Malacca Strait on its list of the 20 most dangerous waterways in the world.
He said Lloyds' decision was "erroneous" because none of the countries bordering the strait were at war with each other, and a recent deal had brought peace to Indonesia's tsunami-battered Aceh province in the channel's northern approaches.
Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia -- working to clean up the strait's tarnished image -- signed a memorandum of understanding yesterday with the International Maritime Organization, the World Bank and a group of shipping companies to monitor every ship that passes through the waterway.