07 October 2014
Oral Reply to Parliamentary Question on the Raffles Marina Incident by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs
Mr Hri Kumar Nair: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs what steps has the Government taken to secure our borders and prevent the unauthorised entry of people and goods into Singapore following the incident where three foreigners entered Singapore illegally in August 2014 via the Raffles Marina.
On 19 August 2014, a private boat carrying three foreigners arrived at Raffles Marina outside the operating hours for its Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ). Two of the persons then disembarked from the boat and entered Singapore illegally, while the boatman sailed the boat away. The two who disembarked in Singapore were arrested on the same day, while the boatman was arrested the following day when the private boat re-entered Singapore waters.
2. Our land, aviation and sea domains have quite different characteristics. The land and aviation domains are areas where we can funnel and control the movement of persons entering or departing Singapore via a small number of immigration checkpoints at the airport, Woodlands and Tuas. Because we are an island, the maritime domain is far more complex. Our coastline is 197km long, and the distance between our international boundary and the shoreline is short, in some places less than 500m, compared to the length of our coastline. Along the shoreline, there are 180 wharves and jetties. Many of these wharves and jetties are within private premises, such as shipyards and marinas. The volume of sea traffic is also high and they fall into multiple categories. In 2013 alone, about 140,000 foreign vessels called into Singapore ranging from large passenger and cargo vessels, to small pleasure, trading and fishing craft. Apart from that, Singapore vessels also travel within our own waters departing and calling at various of our own landing places and these vessels don’t require CIQ clearance but they are traversing through the same waters as the foreign vessels which come into Singapore. Foreign vessels are also permitted under international law to pass through our territorial waters on transit or innocent passage, without CIQ clearance, when they do not call into Singapore. Hence, they are also vessels in transit or passing through the same waters but because they do not call into Singapore, they don’t require CIQ clearance. This large number and variety of vessels within and across our waters pose a daily challenge for our maritime agencies.
3. To keep our sea borders secure, our maritime security agencies, comprising the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), Police Coast Guard (PCG) and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), have adopted a co-ordinated and multi-layered security regime which we have been improving and tightening over the years. The RSN and PCG patrol our waters to detect and intercept unauthorised vessels. They make use of radars and optical devices to carry out surveillance of our waters. The PCG also conducts joint operations with ICA regularly to check on vessels for illegal activities or persons. Where feasible, we have put up physical structures to deter illegal landings at vulnerable areas. For example, there are currently 63km of land- and sea-based physical barriers, such as fencing and floating sea barriers, around our shores, and PCG has plans to erect another 80km of such barriers over time. These will cover 143km of our 197km of coastline deterring and preventing illegal entry, and channelling vessels. This allows our security agencies to focus their attention on areas and vessels that are more likely to pose a threat. Such barriers and fences are not practical in places where sea traffic actually calls into Singapore via jetties and other landing places. These security measures have proven to be generally successful.
4. In the three years from 2011 to 2013, 46 vessels were seized for intruding into Singapore. In the same period, PCG arrested 144 persons for entering Singapore waters illegally or attempting to land illegally by sea. Last year alone, 2,890 vessels were detected and stopped from entering Singapore’s Territorial Waters. Most of these vessels had strayed off course and complied with instructions when duly advised. In the same period, 49 persons were arrested for entering Singapore waters illegally or attempting to land illegally by sea.
5. Madam Speaker, our security agencies have made significant progress over the years, and MHA will continue to review and tighten the security processes with relevant agencies and importantly private partners, including studying this incident for useful lesson. In particular, the owners and occupiers of vessel landing points also have a responsibility to ensure that there are adequate security measures on their premises. This is for the safety and security of persons and property on their own premises, apart from contributing to our overall national security effort. Our seafaring and coastal community can also do their part to alert authorities of any suspicious vessels or activities occurring within our territorial waters. In the coming months, the Home Team agencies and their maritime security partners will further review the security regime and work closely with stakeholders to put in place any needed additional measures to keep our waters and borders safe and secure.