Ruling for Singapore

Ruling for Singapore


SINGAPORE claims sovereignty over Pedra Branca on the basis that the British took lawful possession of the island between 1847 and 1851, when they built Horsburgh Lighthouse there.

Before that, the island was terra nullius, that is, it belonged to no one, Singapore had argued before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Netherlands last November.


Singapore inherited the title to the island from the British colonial government.


It maintained that title through an open, continuous and effective display of state authority over the island from the 1850s up to the present, it said.


Those state activities, known in international law as effectivites, went well beyond the operation of Horsburgh Lighthouse, and included naval patrols in the waters around Pedra Branca and the control of access to the island.


If the ICJ judges agree, it could result in one of two possible outcomes.







THE court could award sovereignty over Pedra Branca, the Middle Rocks and South Ledge to Singapore.


That would be ‘optimum’ for Singapore, Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh said.


Such an outcome would maintain the status quo. Singapore would then have to decide how to delimit its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone around Pedra Branca.


‘If these zones overlap with those of our two neighbours (Malaysia and Indonesia), then we will have to sit down with them to negotiate an agreed delimitation…and we may have to talk to Malaysia about fishing rights in Pedra Branca’s waters,’ he added.






THE court could award sovereignty over Pedra Branca to Singapore and sovereignty over the Middle Rocks and South Ledge to Malaysia.


Middle Rocks and South Ledge are two maritime features that lie within three nautical miles of Pedra Branca.


Ambassador Koh said he would regard such a split decision as still ‘a good outcome because the lighthouse is on Pedra Branca and of the three maritime features, the largest and the most significant is Pedra Branca’.


On the economic importance of Pedra Branca to Singapore, Ambassador Koh noted that the island is strategically located at the eastern entrance of the Strait of Singapore.


The Strait is a key channel for international shipping and some 900 ships pass through it each day.


‘Since our port is so important to our livelihood, freedom and safety of navigation are critical and part of our core national interest,’ he said.



Source: Straits Times

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