LATEST: Okay, you can quit all the political machismo posturing already because the MB of Johor has said it –“Pulau Pisang’s sovereignty is clear!”
According to him, the lighthouse on the 152-hectare island was there by way of an agreement between the Sultan of Johor then, Sultan Ibrahim, and the British government. “Pulau Pisang is in the government’s register and belongs to the Johor state government. The need for the lighthouse is based on shipping needs. That condition has to be met,” Abdul Ghani told reporters after officiating at the state Quran recitation function here Monday. He said the lighthouse occupied one acre and Singapore was allowed to build a jetty and a path to the lighthouse. Abdul Ghani was responding to concerns over the possibility of a dispute arising on the sovereignty and ownership of Pulau Pisang as the lighthouse was managed by Singapore. According to him, the Malaysian government in 2001 set a condition that Singaporeans on duty at the lighthouse had to register themselves at the Marine Department and Immigration office in Kukup, near Pontian. The registration needed to be done once every two weeks as the Singaporeans came and went, he said, adding that the lighthouse was fenced up and was a restricted area. On plans to develop the island, Abdul Ghani said Pulau Pisang had the potential to be developed due to its beauty but until now there was no official decision on the matter.
**Update (edited): Misreporting in the media can have dire consequences, especially when it involves territorial, political and sovereignty disputes. A quick search on Google will yield much evidence to show that Singapore has made clear its stand on Pulau Pisang. Even this Oral Pleading on the Straits Lights System made in Paris, France on 8 November 2007 states that:
10. The same procedure was followed when the lighthouse on the island of Pulau Pisang was later constructed. As the Court will see from the map, Pulau Pisang is an island located off the coast of Malaysia in the Straits of Malacca: and the island, as I said earlier today, has always been regarded as belonging to Johor and, subsequently, to Malaysia.
11. In 1885, an agreement was reached between the Ruler of Johor and the Governor of the Straits Settlements in Singapore pursuant to which the former ⎯ the Ruler of Johor ⎯ granted to the Government of the Straits Settlements a plot of land on which to build and maintain a lighthouse and a roadway access to the lighthouse. The lighthouse itself was erected on Pulau Pisang in 1886 and, in accordance with the 1885 Agreement, was managed and maintained by the Government of the Straits Settlements and later by Singapore, which continues to do so up to the present. The 1885 grant by the Ruler of Johor was not reduced to writing at the time, but it was subsequently recorded in an express written indenture signed on 6 October 1900 between the Sultan of Johor and the Governor of the Colony of the Straits Settlements after the Sultan of Johor had sent a reminder to this effect to the Governor of the Straits Settlements (CMS, Ann. 24). What is striking about this event is that the Sultan never referred at the time to the need to execute a similar indenture for the lighthouse on Pedra Branca: only for the light on Pulau Pisang. And that is further striking evidence that Pedra Branca was not regarded by the Sultan as falling under Johor’s sovereignty.
The Oral Pleading continued the next day, 9 November 2007 with more arguments to support Singapore’s claim to Pedra Branca:
18. And it is the complete absence of an agreement for the British activities on Pedra Branca from 1847 to 1851, activities which culminated in the construction of the lighthouse on Pedra Branca, that is a fundamental defect in Malaysia’s case. The plain and simple truth is that Malaysia has been unable to produce any written agreement dealing with the lighthouse on Pedra Branca as it did with respect to the lighthouses at Cape Rachado and Pulau Pisang, and as was proposed for the lighthouse on Pulau Aur. The obvious explanation for this glaring gap in Malaysia’s case is that neither Malaysia, nor its predecessor Johor, ever considered Pedra Branca to be under its sovereignty.
19. It is this lack of any written agreement concerning the lighthouse on Pedra Branca which also distinguishes the present case from the examples of lighthouse practice elsewhere in the world that Malaysia has sought to rely on in its written pleadings. Malaysia’s thesis is that lighthouses are frequently built and maintained by an entity which does not possess sovereignty over the territory on which the light is situated, and that Pedra Branca is simply an example of this practice. But let me examine the authorities that Malaysia has cited and on which it relies to support this proposition…….
47. Eleventh, and last, Malaysia expressly disclaimed “ownership” over Pedra Branca. Singapore, in contrast, obviously never disclaimed “ownership” over Pedra Branca, and it never claimed sovereignty over Pulau Pisang.
Utusan Malaysia frontpaged a story about Pulau Pisang today “Bangunkan P. Pisang – Bagi menjamin status kedaulatan pulau milik Malaysia” calling for the Malaysian Government to develop the island and retake management of the lighthouse from Singapore. But I would have to say there is no reason for worry as Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Prof S Jayakumar had already given assurance of this in his reply to supplementary questions in the Singapore Parliament in 2003. According to excerpts from the Hansard here and a Channel News Asia report here, he was quoted as saying:
Mr Abdul Khalis: Firstly, I understand that while we operate a lighthouse at Pedra Branca, we also operate a lighthouse at Pulau Pisang. While we say that Pedra Branca belongs to us, we do not have a similar position as regards to Pulau Pisang. The first question is, what are the differences in Singapore’s position with regards to Pedra Branca as opposed to Pulau Pisang? Second question: has Malaysia decided, realised or in any other way taken any steps to claim against any other island that belong to us besides Pedra Branca?
Answer: Let me first say upfront that Pulau Pisang belongs to Malaysia. We have never disputed Malaysia’s sovereignty over Pulau Pisang. But our MPA, Maritime Port Authority, however has a right to operate the lighthouse there on Pulau Pisang and the plot of land on which the lighthouse stands as well as the roadway leading to the Lighthouse was granted in perpetuity to Singapore so long as Singapore operates the lighthouse and this was in an indenture between Johor Sultan and the Straits Settlement’s Government in 1900 and we became successor to that. So Pulau Pisang, we never contested the sovereignty. Pedra Branca, we have sovereignty over it. It is ridiculous to say, as the Malaysians said, that Singapore can only operate a Lighthouse for Malaysia. I might add that, in 1968, the Malaysian objected to the flying of our flag over the lighthouse, Singapore flag, in Pulau Pisang. They objected to the flag and we took it out. But they never objected then or later to the flying of the Singapore flag in Pedra Branca.
There are photos of the Pulau Pisang lighthouse at the Lighthouse Depot here and here. You can also see a satellite photo here. I am not sure if the Utusan report is aware that Vancouver based design company Civitas has even drawn up a design for a golf resort on Pulau Pisang for ther client Akitek Antara Sdn Bhd here (you have to scroll down a bit to see the design). Don’t confuse this with Pulau Pisang, Indonesia which is a well-known surfers haunt. Have a listen to this Ghazal number entitled “Pulau Pisang“, as Siti Nurhaliza waxes lyrical about the island.
Pulau Pisang Rumahlah Api Sayang
Pedoman Kapal Belayar Malam
Sebelum Ajal Berpantang Mati
Walaupun Tercampak Dalam Lautan Dalam
Pedomanlah Kapal Belayar Malam Sayang
Sarat Bermuat Buah Keranji
Walau Tercampak Lautan Yang Dalam
Tidakku Lupa Segala Janji
In the meantime, read the text of the Opening Speech by Malaysia at the International Court of Justice submitted on 13 Nov 2007 with regard to Pedra Branca here. An excerpt of the speech that shows Malaysia’s real concerns:
36. Singapore’s claim not only upsets the existing arrangements in this way, but raises the question of what it wants to do with the island. In its pleadings Singapore has relied on a reclamation proposal around Pulau Batu Puteh. An internal document, a 1978 Tender Evaluation Report, shows a prospective artificial island of 5,000 sq meters towards Middle Rock. This is not fanciful conjecture. Singapore has an extremely active reclamation policy, which was the subject of the Reclamation Case instituted by Malaysia against Singapore in ITLOS in September 2003. The Provisional Measures Order given by that Tribunal in October 2003 will be known to the Court, as well as the subsequent amicable settlement of that case.
37. But Singapore does not need a bigger island for a better lighthouse. What does it need a bigger island for? Quite apart from the possible effects on environment and navigation in the Straits, this could lead to potentially serious changes to the security arrangements in the eastern entrance to the Straits. In fact, the aggressive methods Singapore has used to assert its claim to Pulau Batu Puteh have already led to regrettable – although not irreversible – changes to the stable conditions in the area.
38. In 1986, well after the critical date, Singapore sent its naval vessels to Pulau Batu Puteh, and has since then maintained a permanent, 24-hour guard around Pulau Batu Puteh. This has created tension and danger. Johor fishermen have been chased away by Singapore forces from their traditional fishing waters and sheltering spots around Pulau Batu Puteh. Malaysian officials and naval vessels cannot go anywhere near Pulau Batu Puteh without being physically challenged by Singapore naval vessels. In response to Singapore’s actions, Malaysia has chosen to adopt a policy of non-confrontation and to act in a peaceful manner while this dispute is in the process of being settled. We have now learned through its pleadings that Singapore placed military communications equipment on Pulau Batu Puteh in May 1977, which we were not previously aware of and which causes us grave concern. This conduct does not fall within the consent given for the construction and operation of the lighthouse.
39. Great Britain and Singapore’s conduct in respect of Pulau Batu Puteh before the critical date, at least that which was known to Malaysia, was entirely consistent with being the operator of the lighthouses on Pulau Batu Puteh and Pulau Pisang with the consent of the sovereign, Johor.
40. Malaysia, by contrast, has always respected the long-standing arrangements for Singapore’s operation of the lighthouses on Pulau Batu Puteh and Pulau Pisang. We have not interfered with Singapore’s operation of the lighthouses.
41. But Malaysia does not wish the stability of its relationship with Indonesia altered. Yet this would inevitably follow if Singapore were to be treated as sovereign over Pulau Batu Puteh with attendant implications for established maritime delimitation in the area.
42. Malaysia respectfully requests the Court to bear in mind these important considerations and, accordingly, to reaffirm Malaysia’s title to Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.
43. Mr President and distinguished members of the Court, before ending my submission, I would like to clarify one point. Our problem is with Singapore as a military presence on one of Johor’s islands in the eastern entrance of the Singapore Straits. We have no problem with Singapore as the operator of Horsburgh Lighthouse. Malaysia wishes to maintain the peaceful and stable conditions at the entrance to the South China Sea. It is Singapore which is seeking to change the situation. The Sultan and Temenggong of Johor, in 1844, gladly consented to the establishment of the lighthouse on Pulau Batu Puteh, and Malaysia has never suggested that its continued operation by Singapore presented any problem. I repeat, Malaysia has always respected the position of Singapore as the operator of Horsburgh Lighthouse and I would like to place formally on record that Malaysia will continue to do so. Malaysia’s concern is quite different, as I have indicated.
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