Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishan’s Written Reply to Parliamentary Question, 2 Sep 2019
Assoc Prof Walter Theseira: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) whether there are provisions for Singapore Government vessels, aircraft and resources to assist Malaysian authorities in search and rescue operations in Malaysian territorial waters near Singapore; (b) if so, to what extent; and (c) whether such provisions will be reviewed in light of the recent case of two Singaporean kayakers lost at sea near Mersing, Malaysia.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: I would begin by expressing our deepest sympathies to the families of the two Singaporeans, Mdm Phua Geok Tin and Mr Tan Eng Soon, who were the victims of a tragic incident while kayaking in the sea near Mersing, Malaysia on 8 August 2019.
2 The group leader informed the Malaysian authorities that Mdm Phua and Mr Tan were missing on the morning of 9 August 2019. When MFA was informed later that afternoon, we immediately contacted the relevant Malaysian authorities to also seek their urgent assistance for the search and rescue (SAR) operations as the incident took place in Malaysia’s territorial waters. We also immediately alerted members of both families of the incident and offered our assistance.
3 An intensive SAR operation was coordinated by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) over the next 10 days. MFA officers were deployed on the ground to coordinate with the Malaysian authorities and to provide consular support to the families, at the search site. Their kayak was found on 13 August, and the body of Mdm Phua was subsequently found on 14 August. Unfortunately, the search for Mr Tan has been inconclusive. While the SAR operations have ended, the Malaysian authorities have asked vessels and fishermen to continue to look out for Mr Tan. We also remain in contact with the families in case they require further assistance in the wake of this tragic incident.
4 There are long standing existing arrangements for Singapore to assist the Malaysian authorities (and vice versa) in such SAR operations, subject to the permission of the country responsible for the maritime search and rescue region. MPA, who coordinates Singapore’s maritime SAR operations, reached out to its Malaysian counterpart to offer Singapore’s assistance. MPA also alerted its Indonesian and Thai counterparts to look out and report any sightings, and initiated a Maritime Safety Information broadcast to the shipping community to be on the lookout.
5 While our offer of assistance was not taken up, Malaysia conducted an intensive SAR operation lasting 10 days. This is beyond the usual period of their SAR operations. Malaysia deployed 5 aircrafts, 11 naval vessels and patrol boats and 155 ground personnel in very challenging conditions. They covered a vast area of waters off the Malaysian states of Johor, Pahang and Terengganu. We are especially grateful to the Malaysian government and all Malaysian agencies and personnel who were involved in the SAR operations. We were also heartened by the support and assistance of ordinary Malaysians from all walks of life, especially the fishermen in the area who played a critical role in the recovery efforts. I called Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin shortly after the end of the SAR operations to personally express Singapore’s deep appreciation. He also assured me that Malaysia will follow up if there is any significant new information on the search for Mr Tan.
6 Malaysia’s efforts in finding the two Singaporeans is a reflection of how, as close neighbours, we have always come to the assistance of each other in such unfortunate incidents. We will continue to work closely with our foreign counterparts to maintain these strong ties at all levels.
7 I need to remind Singaporeans participating in outdoor leisure activities overseas to e-register with MFA and be mindful that certain sporting activities, especially in open seas, may carry risks. Appropriate safety and contingency plans should be prepared. When in doubt, Singaporeans should consult the relevant professional bodies or sporting associations for specific advice.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Singapore