Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency

Mar 15, 2012

At the January 2012 Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Sea Power Conference in Sydney, Admiral Maritime Datuk Mohd Amdan bin Kurish, Director General Malaysian ­Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), gave a presentation on Maritime Cooperation in the Malacca Strait. Describing the relationship between Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, Admiral Kurish stressed the need for: trust, information sharing and interoperability among the countries. Captain Maritime Hj Mamu Bin Said Alee, Director of Strategic Planning, Maritime Policy & International Relations at the MMEA, followed up in an exclusive interview with Tim Lynch of FrontLine Defence.

Director General of the MMEA, Admiral Datuk Mohd Amdan Bin Kurish, performs inspection

Captain Mamu described the mission as the enforcement of all Malaysian maritime laws and the saving of life at sea. The Malaysian Marine Department is responsible for managing the flow of vessel traffic and safety through the Malacca Strait, the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) focuses on matters of defence, protecting the country from foreign forces, while the MMEA enforces laws at sea (as the police enforce law on land) and is the lead agency for Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR).

Legal Structure
The MMEA Act 2004 provides authority to enforce all maritime laws in such areas as fishing, customs, piracy, armed robbery at sea, marine pollution, or international merchant ships not abiding by the regulations governing passage through the Strait. “We have the same jurisdictions and powers as the police on the land to apprehend law breakers, collect evidence and prosecute them in the courts.” Other Coastguard organizations may apprehend maritime criminals but a related agency will often prosecute them in court. “The MMEA arrests and prosecutes all maritime law breakers,” he stresses.

Established in 2005, the MMEA was initially the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport. It was later transferred to Prime Minister’s Department. The current Prime Minister, the most Honourable Dato Seri Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, was the Minister tasked to initiate the formation of Malaysian Coast Guard.

Before 2005, many agencies (such as the Royal Malaysian Police, Customs, Fisheries) performed maritime law enforcement duties and there was much duplication. Astoundingly, the MMEA successfully adopted strategies to take over all functions related to Maritime Law Enforcement and Search and Rescue within 5 years, finally emerging as the sole agency in 2011.

“It was not an easy task,” recalls Captain Mamu. “We had to learn about the procedures and standard operating procedures of each agency. We had to recruit and train more people. We had to get assets operational.” Now that the administration is fully in place, MMEA will soon assume the title of Coast Guard – a name commonly recognized throughout the world.

MMEA assistance may be called upon during international conflicts where it ­follows the leadership of the Malaysian Armed Forces. “We have developed strong cooperation with the Malaysian Navy,” he tells FrontLine. “We share information, conduct periodic trainings, and coordinate other programmes related to maritime activities.”

Federal and State Police
The MMEA interacts with both federal and state-level police forces, depending on the particulars of each incident. “We have regular meetings with Malaysian Police forces,” confirms Capt Mamu. Malaysian law requires a police report for court ­proceedings, but when criminal activities initially committed at sea continue to the land, “we are allowed to do hot pursuit on land until we apprehend them. If we face difficulties, we request the assistance of the police on the land.”

MMEA is proud of its cooperation with similar agencies, “especially our neighbouring partners in the fight against crime at sea: Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines. We have developed very close maritime and land border cooperation. We do yearly meetings and we all work in support of law enforcement and Search and Rescue at sea.”

MMEA officials share information on suspect vessels or individuals among members of this network and conducts activities and training on counter terrorism. Malaysia believes that terrorism and transnational organized crime are serious global concerns that have the potential to endanger the stability and security of nations as well as threaten international peace.”

Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT), which serves as a regional counter-terrorism centre focusing primarily on training, capacity-building, research and public awareness programmes in collaboration with other Governments and international organizations.

“We cannot stop ships transiting,” notes Capt Mamu. “We consider the right of transit passage under UNCLOS through the Straits of Malacca is clear in its preservation of a balance between the usage of territorial waters of a country by foreign vessels, with the sovereign right of the coastal states to manage the affairs of security and safety in their waters. Ships in transit are not allowed to stop or do anything other than transit through the straits.”

Canada faces a similar situation with respect to the passage of shipping along the North West Passage. The Malaysian model might be relevant for international ship movement across the Arctic. “I think it is an excellent model you can use,” agrees Capt Mamu. “The details of our arrangements are on the Internet, including the Cooperative Mechanism involving outside organizations and countries that contribute to the funding and  provide corporate oversight. The TTEG group identifies the technical needs around vessel movement along the Straits and introduces the issues to the Cooperative Mechanism members. We currently have seven projects, in terms of capacity building, money, technical expertise, that are funded by countries independent of the tripartite countries.” With very high traffic flow (90,000 ships per year), and considering the narrowness of some sections of the Straits, an accident could have significant repercussions in the flow of global maritime traffic. “Accidents are prevented by controlling the flow of ships through the Straits and recognizing that we have to accomplish this as efficiently as possible. Ships approaching the Straits must report to respective littoral countries when entering this region.”

MMEA members on training exercise

Captain Mamu explains that MMEA has been involved in recent discussions with Canadian counter parts on human trafficking. “We are establishing a liaison with the Embassy of Canada here on this matter. Canada officials had indicated their willingness in capacity building for MMEA. MMEA [reciprocated] through the Canadian Embassy. The Canadian government will initiate Government to Government talks on this matter.”

The MMEA is somewhat unique, and perhaps most modern, in the area of coastal water policing. Captain Mamu was asked about the Canadian model. “I was informed the Canadian Coast Guards don’t carry guns, how do you stop and arrest if you don’t carry guns? The bad boys won’t stop if you don’t have a gun. How can you arrest them?”

Canadians tend not to see themselves as a maritime nation; such preoccupations are considered more as federal government concerns. However, there are many similarities between Malaysian and Canadian Institutions as a consequence of their British Empire affiliations, but adoption of British laws and traditions have differed. For example the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) service has evolved into an internationally respected Search and Rescue (SAR) service in collaboration with the Canadian military. However, for any “guarding” function of the Canadian coastline the agency has retained the British yeoman tradition of signalling, tactical communications and Petty Officer administrative duties.

Crewmembers of U.S. Coast Guard cutter Boutwell work with members of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) to understand each others law enforcement tactics.

Canada’s RCMP retained a monopoly in law enforcement at the federal level, especially with respect to the right to bear arms. Consequently, it is the primary source of maritime law enforcement around Canada’s coastline. While some detachments are equipped with vessels suitable for engaging in maritime police activities, often the RCMP must acquire a vessel to enforce Canadian maritime law. CCG vessels are used for transporting RCMP officers on such occasions but under strict conditions since CCG personnel are not trained in law enforcement and are forbidden to place themselves in harm’s way by their union.

The Government of Canada prides itself in being able to achieve consensus among its departments. This is achieved through integrated joint task force operations such as: the Interdepartmental Marine Security Working Group (IMSWG), Marine Security Operation Centres (MSOC) and the National Port Enforcement Teams (NPETs). NPETs are examples of federal, provincial and municipal police collaboration in protecting communities from organized crime at Canada’s seaports.

Given changes in the kinds of threats Canada is experiencing from transnational criminal organizations, the RCMP collaborates with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) on such criminal investigations. However, even though press releases stress the camaraderie that evolves when RCMP officers board naval vessels, there is no denying both cultures are different; making the chain no stronger than the weakest link. These fault lines in the Canadian maritime security system were recently documented in June 2011 paper by retired Vice-Admiral J.Y. Forcier, entitled The Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard: Cooperating Sea Services or Co-existing Federal Fleets.

Royal Malaysian Navy multi-role support ships manœuver during an at-sea exercise for Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT).

Arguing that coast guard units are more suitable than warships for employment in sensitive areas, Dr Sam Bateman, an internationally recognized authority in maritime security, in a paper entitled Regional Navies and Coast Guards: Striking a Balance between “Lawships” and Warships, points out that the arrest of a foreign vessel by a warship may provoke tension, whereas arrest by a coast guard vessel may be accepted as legitimate law enforcement signalling that the arresting party views the incident as non-political. Bateman concludes that a basic clash exists between the military ethos of applying maximum force and that of civil law enforcement, which usually involves a minimum show of force.

In Canada, Senatorial Comities and the Auditor General have recommended change in the way Canada’s coastline is guarded, as well as independent analysis such as that by Forcier. And none of these recommendations seem to impact the status quo. Substantial change in the structure of Canadian security will likely only happen if Canada directly experiences a devastating incident.

As Capt Mamu stresses, the merging of government departments takes a while to sort out in establishing a unified maritime security law enforcement agency. Even with a more centralized system of government and the backing of the Prime ­Minister, Malaysia took seven years to merge its maritime laws under one agency – only now are land based police forces are giving up their vessels and marine bases to the MMEA. The management/leadership benchmark to take away from the Malaysian experience is that it took seven years, how soon could other governments achieve similar organizational change?

Tim Lynch is a Freelance writer for FrontLine Security
© FrontLine Defence 2012