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Malaysia Maritime Environmental Issues and Its Impact





Seas and oceans traditionally used by us to have all the source of rich, opportunity and abundance. The vast area of it has given us the aspiration either to use or to abuse it.  Most of the countries in this world are connected with sea and ocean, which make the line of communication and transportation easily done through it.  Many years ago while air transportation is impossible, transportation through land could take a month to reach. Sea and ocean line was used heavily either for trade, communication or expanding the power beyond the borders.  The increasing awareness by us has changed the point of view that the feel of appreciation which not only in a sense of importance for economy and social, but also in a sense of security.  Maritime security and safety issues are major and hot topics nowadays.  It is spoken all over the world, especially in this modern and globalise era where crime has no longer a matter of a single country but a matter concerning everybody.  It is borderless and at any time can happen anywhere.  Because of the large maritime area, this crime is very difficult to contain particularly in the area where the enforcement is less due to lack of security assets.  This situation worries the country, especially those are depending directly to the sea as a source of development.

Maritime threats have existed ever since commerce went to sea.  Now, it’s just in what capacity and in what dimension.  Threat to maritime in aspect of maritime security and safety can be from any kind such as piracy, sea robbery, human trafficking, smuggling and others, which cover up to sea pollution.  Malaysia’s total sea area of 614,159 square kilometres is almost twice its landmass and the size of itsExclusive Economic Zone(EEZ) alone is 453,186 square kilometres.  An estimated 70 percent of the population lives along 4,800 kilometres of coastline area, which have rich ecosystem and biodiversity.]With these unique backgrounds, it has offered tremendous economic value and prospects to Malaysia.  Major economic activities are offshore petroleum, marine transport, marine tourism, fisheries and aquaculture. As a maritime nation, Malaysia is a party to a number of international conventions dealing with marine pollution, which laid down important rules to be followed by state parties to prevent and control marine pollution.  Some reports have concluded that the quality of marine environment and life in our country is showing signs of decline.According to Oxford Dictionary (7th edition) environmental issues can best define with something connected to natural conditions that affect behaviour and development of something.  To be more precise, environmental issues are negative aspects of human activity on the biophysical environment.  Few examples of maritime environmental issues are conservation, environmental degradation, environmental health, nanotechnology, nuclear issues, water pollution, air pollution and resource depletion.  To explain further, the definitions of environmental issues in law perspective as follows:

Any direct or indirect alteration of the physical, thermal, chemical, or biological properties of any part of the environment by discharging, emitting, or depositing environmentally hazardous substances, pollutants or wastes so as to affect any beneficial use adversely, to cause a condition which is hazardous or potentially hazardous to public health, safety, or welfare, or to animals, birds, wildlife, fish or aquatic life, or to plants or to cause a contravention of any condition, limitation or restriction.

Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) is one of the maritime agencies in Malaysia which one of the roles and functions is to safeguard our national interest.  Hence, theroles and functions are the bread and butter to the RMN, and of course it is not limiting the usage, freedom of manoeuvres in Malaysian waters for whatever reasons.  In connection to maritime environmental issues, the RMN has a strong sense of commitment in upholding the community values of Malaysia.  At the forefront of these values are respect for the environment and a growing need to ensure that naval operations are undertaken by sustainable methods and that the environment is preserved for future generations.


With the current capabilities and ageing of warships, RMN has a bigger issues to adhere to the rules and regulations with regards to environmental friendly and thus will affect the conduct of RMN Operations.Indeed there are inventions of new environmental friendly technologies and of course will increase operational efficiency, but due to the limited budget on national defence sector, RMN is to wisely maintain its own asset and at the same time parallel to environmental issue requirements.


The objectives of this study as follows:

  1. To examine the relationship between Naval Operations and maritime environmental issues.
  2. To determine what is the negative factor contributes by RMN warships in relations to maritime environmental issues.
  3. To determine whether the capability of RMN in conducting operations isconstrainedby the current environmental policy and legislation.
  4. To suggest solutions towards the environment compliant warship without jeopardizing required operations.


RMN warships are not much different with any commercial vessel and thus should comply withenvironmental regulations such as the Environment Quality Act 1974.  Due to the integrity, RMN should set a very good example in complying not only to the act, but to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982 and a number of international maritime environmental conventions in order to portray a good image to the public.  RMN warships should be able to operate without restriction in ports or open seas.  Due to some intensive measures on environmental issues, there aresome restrictions and constraint on naval activity with regards to ships design and conduct of operations.  Hence, the study should be able to determine the best solution for win-win situation.


The literature of the research mainly based on environmental thesis papers,which havebeen done by scholars as a reference.  Generally, the literature addresses Malaysia’s environmental qualities, environmental justice and common public attitudes towards the environment.  It is further discussed about policies, practices and Malaysia’s commitment to international agreements which to be scrutinized.  The literature as well as provides information with regards to consequences of the fast track style of development on our natural resources, health, quality of life and ecosystems.


The preparation of this research paper is based on the secondary data,mainly from books and other published articles.  Most of the material from military references are classified Restricted.  Therefore, limits the research on the subject matter. Time constrained is the biggest setback and hindered a more commendable study of the existing issues.


The primary method will be through literature research.  Therefore, the sources will be published books and journal articles spanning the subject areas of Malaysia Environment Issues and RMN Operations.  Newspaper articles, speeches by relevant personalities and interviews will also be sought after.  Information will also be extracted from official governmental or organisation websites.


The paper will be organised into five chapters as follows:

Chapter 1 : Introduction . This chapter is the introduction of the subject and layout of the paper.

Chapter 2 : Maritime Operations .  This chapter will elaborate the concept and conduct of Naval Operations focusing on the RMN.

Chapter 3 : Existing Maritime Environmental Issues and Degree of RMN Compliance .  This chapter examines a series of environmental issues, related to shipping design and operation.Its further discuss the degree of compliance for each issue, against existing environmental legislation and regulations.

Chapter 4 : Impacts to RMN .  This chapter will discuss the impact on RMN current operations and to determine whether the capability of RMN in conducting operations is constrained by the current environmental policy and legislation.

Chapter 5 : Conclusion .  This chapter includes a discussion on the possible outcomes and to suggest solutions towards an environment compliant warship without jeopardizing required operations.




During the course of recorded history, mankind has perpetually looked towards the sea as a provider of nourishment, as a channel for trade and for the migration of people, culture or idea. The last three millennia has witnessed the development of maritime craft from simple design to the fully computerised ships of the modern day era.  In relation to safe guard maritime national security, warship has been designed and developed as a symbol of supremacy and struggle for control of the seas and trade influence in faraway lands.  Warships have been instruments of both good and evil and have influenced the evolution of mankind.  As a maritime nation, Malaysia is not excluded in enhancing and developing its naval capabilities.  Located at the crossroads of Southeast Asia and the sea are seen as an increasingly important factor in the economic and security aspect of this country.

The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) started from humble beginnings with a rudimentary naval force of coal burning launches and small coastal patrol boats during the colonial time.  Today, the RMN fleet comprises an assortment of modern warships, submarines and naval helicopters armed with state of the art command, control, communication, computers and information (C4I) armed with long-range guided missiles and protected by the most modern electronic warfare systems.  This has completed the metamorphosis of RMN from the coastal Brown Water Navy into a Blue Water Navy, a modern armada.

In order to parallel with its vision ‘To be a World Class Navy (Always Excellent)’, RMN have to be a committed organisation, competent, forward looking, strive for quality and always seek for continuous improvement in managing its own source and technology.  Presently, the roles of the RMN are two-fold; during wartime, the RMN is to ensure the maritime sovereignty of Malaysia while during peacetime, its role is to protect the nation’s maritime interest that included Malaysia’s offshore resources, especially oil and gas, shipping and fishing. Since environmental issues are a major challenge and concern throughout the world, the RMN has to develop its operations toward supporting the environmental friendly.


Naval operations will be the largest contributor toward the maritime environmental issues if it is not being tackled well.  To narrow down the scope of this research, the focus and discussions will be towards the RMN operations.  Every naval exercise always associated with the universal role known as ‘The Trinity of Naval Functions’ (Figure 2.1) namely military, constabulary and diplomacy.  The first role is the military which is to enforce of state sovereignty and defend the national jurisdictions in the sea by way of control and deterrence at sea.  Secondly is constabulary roles, the navy carried this to enforce the security and law to protect marine resources and the national marine wealth, to maintain order at sea and to support the national development.  The third role is diplomacy. Naval forces are the visible mobile and potent symbols of the nation state and such are the useful instruments of foreign policy.  These roles and functions are the bread and butter to the RMN, and of course it is not limiting the usage, freedom of manoeuvres in Malaysian waters for whatever reasons.


Malaysia as a maritime nation is the facts that can’t be argued about.  The sea area is larger than the land mass and a unique feature of being a country split by an ocean supporting the facts.  Malaysia is divided by the South China Sea into two main land masses namely the Peninsular Malaysia on the western side and Sabah and Sarawak on the eastern side.  These two land masses are being separated by more than 1000 kilometres of navigable waters.  Malaysia and the nations of the region are reliant on the sea for transportation; they draw greatly on the maritime environment for living and mineral resources.  Maritime forces have significant access and control in our region.Thus, Malaysia requires maritime forces able of curb the challenges of our strategic geographical conditions. The RMN is essentially responsible for protecting Malaysia’s maritime interest.  To meet these tasks, the RMN is provided with various assets ranging from old and obsolete patrol craft to the most modern and highly sophisticated state of the art frigates and corvettes capable of carrying out all the four dimensions of naval warfare, namely surface, sub-surface, air and electronic warfare.

2.3.1 Anti Surface Warfare ( ASu W )

The main dimension of Naval Operations is ASuW defined as follows:

The actions necessary to detect, identify and counter an adversary’s surface capability.  ASuW operations, which may include sea control and sea denial operations, disruption of Sea Lane of Communications (SLOCs), defence offriendly forces from surface attack, or a combination of all, seek toensure that the necessaryaction are conducted in a timely fashion, denying any adversary the ability to employ forces in an effective manner.

Thus, freedom of manoeuvre and able to sustain long period of operations is the major requirements for the RMN warships.

2.3.2 Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW)

In order to counter subsurface threat, RMN warships must be able to detect the enemy using any available sensors.  Therefore to locate a submarine requires a very hectic and thorough procedure which this will requires warships to stay longer at operational area.  The elements of ASW as follows:

ASW comprises operations with the intention of denying the opponent the effective use of submarines.  The ASW protection of a force depends on defence in depth and close coordination between ships, helicopters, Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), shore-based facilities and friendly submarines.  The complexity of such coordination and the special environmental factor involved makes the submarine threat one of the most difficult problems to counter.

2.3.3 Anti Air Warfare (AAW)

Warships are vulnerable once detected at the open sea, therefore it exposed to be attacked, AAW in the maritime situation required fast reactionof its sensors and personnel, in order to counter the threat.  The purpose of AAW is defined as:

Is the term used for the defence of friendly forces against the threat of aircraft and airborne weapon, whether launched from air, surface, or submarine platforms.  AAW is the maritime term for defensive counter air operations and is part of the joint air defence system.  AAW is based on the principle of defence in depth and layered defence, defeating air attacks at the maximum possible distance from maritime forces

2.3.4 Electronic Warfare (EW)

In EW, an electromagnetic and acoustic spectrum is being exploited as to integrate to the various warfare areas, such as AAW, ASUW and ASW.  Warships and aircraft are equipped with a variety of systems that utiliseor exploit the electromagnetic and acoustic spectrums in order to give early information on enemy position [24] and activities.


Being a small navy, the RMN needs to evolve to remain relevant.  It has to create a credible force encompassing an integrated system of ships, aircraft, submarines and well trained personnel, but resource are increasingly scarce.  To stay ahead, the RMN has to do more with less.  In other words, one of the RMN challenges is to stay ahead by achieving improvement through the application of creative and innovative solutions and making all round improvements continuously.  The other challenges are the need to adopt technological advancement, continuous upgrading of the existing fleet to ensure the highest state of readiness and effectiveness and achieving synergy in the future warfare scenario.  The procurement of new technologies and upgrading of its asset must parallel with the environmental friendly requirements.

In 1994, the EarthCheck Global Standard was established by the travel and tourism industry to provide a mechanism for the promotion of environmentally sustainable tourism.  It is also demonstrating a commitment towards environmental and social responsibilities, better environmental risk management procedures and asset protection.  With the current awareness towards meeting the growing environmental requirement for compliance, RMN has started with KD LEKIU and KD SRI INDERASAKTI as a pioneer.  The bold action by the RMN is influences by following factors:

  1. The RMN ships will acknowledge as no different than other commercial vessels and thus its will bind to the same rules and regulations.
  2. Environmental issues are currently complex and need special attention and requiring effective and flexible long-range planning.
  3. It is difficult to forecast the environmental requirement due to ageing if warships in order to develop appropriate responses.
  4. The international community is increasingly applying a coordinated global approach to foster marine environmental issues.  Thus, the RMN should portray a good image in addressing the problem a pro-active way.
  5. Strict rules and regulations in controlling the marine pollution are now being implemented in coastal areas and also being expanded on the high seas.
  6. The RMN approaches toward environmental friendly warships is unable to meet the complex challenges of environmental compliance.  More strategic and forward-looking plan for future ships is to be implemented.
  7. The RMN approach toward environmental friendly warships is eventually costly and may sometimes endanger the health of service personnel as well as operational effectiveness.
  8. A better environmental compliant warship design is much more significant due to the good return of investment in operational and cost benefits.  It will not have to rely on shore support for waste management.

Apart from these commitments, warships basically having the privileges of sovereign immunity and special exemption as discuss below.

Complete exemption of warships and other ships owned or operated by a State and used only on government non-commercial service from the application of the convention so far as both main rules and enforcement provision are concerned.

Having said that, the RMN has a strong sense of commitment in upholding the community values of Malaysia, thus naval operations are properly planned as to suite the environmental stewardship in order to preserve it for future generations and therefore,will give the RMN a fine record.  It appears that there were operational benefits from sound environmental practices and the RMN is slowly to adopt this concept.


In conclusions Maritime Operations is a challenging business.  Having a vast area of operations with a multi faceted of the threat, the RMN continuously been challenged by the new development such as the rise of non-traditional maritime security issues and the complexity of maritime environmental issues.  Maritime operations, parallel with environmental issues will provide a better solution in managing the maritime security issues.  In another case, it will give some operational benefit to the RMN since every item onboard has been well maintained and the operational requirementsare easily tackled. Apart from having the special privileges and immunity of warships, the RMN should not take this advantage to take part as one of the environmental non-compliance conducts.  As to progress toward environmental stewardship, the RMN therefore should act like no different than international ocean shipping, which binds to the rules and regulations as to uphold the community values of Malaysia.





The RMN warship is no different than other international oceans shipping all over the world; more or less it would contribute to the effect of the environmental issues.  Most studies have found that the international ocean shipping industry accounts for roughly three percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.  This means that if the ocean shipping industry were a country, it would rank seventh in the world in emissions.  Its shows that more or less ocean shipping industry contributed to environmental problems, hence warships are not excluded.  Even though warship has been thoroughly design, but it still contributes to some extend the environmental effect while doing their operational task.  As we go through our daily life, which is increasingly becoming fast paced and hectic, only a few of us take a time out to look around and notice the devastating effects of modem civilization on the environment.  The environment has to sustain not only the basic human needs for survival but also the conversion of raw materials into goods and services.

Ensure continuous improvement in the productivity and quality of the environment while pursuing economic growth and human development.

Ensure the highest commitment to environmental protection and accountability by all decision makers in the public and private sectors, resource users, non-governmental organisations and the general public, in formulating, planning and implementing their activities.

Based on above principles in Malaysia National Policy on the Environment, the RMN is yet to adopt this principle officially because the negative aspect to the environment is very minute, but in a long term period the effect will slowly affect the environment, and this will de discuss further in following paragraph.  Therefore, planning and implementing activities from designing of warships to the way executioner part of the operations are to be monitored and suit to the highest commitment of environmental protection.

Malaysia has a sound and viable National Environmental Policy and adequate legal regime to cope with challenges of the present day marine pollution issues  The protection of the marine environment and degree of the RMN compliance were based on Environmental Quality Act 1974, Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952, Merchant Shipping Oil Pollution Act 1994, Exclusive Economic Zone Act 1984 and Fisheries Act 1985.


Threats to the environment are an increasing concern for states, societies and the international community. In relations to naval operations, below are the related maritime environmental issue which more or less hascontributed to the emerging problems.

3.2.1 Water Pollution

Water pollution may be less conspicuous than the solid waste pollution, but it is probably even more dangerous.  This is partly because a wider range of harmful chemicals falls in this category and partly because it is more mobile as compared to the solid waste materials.  With regard to marine environmental issues, liquid pollutants are generated from ships and offshore installations.  Liquids are simply dumped into the oceans without any treatment.  One of the most common liquid wastes is sewage.  In many cases sewage is discharged to the sea without any treatment, which will create disease producing bacteria thus the plant and animal life in it cannot survive and the water becomes anoxic or lifeless.

3.2.2 Air Pollution and Degradation of the Atmosphere

Air pollution is one of the toxic forms that affect the environment.  Air, by far, is the most important aspect to human life.Air pollution and air quality has become a huge topic in the world today.  The air quality is different depending on your location where about.  For examples, Los Angeles is very smoggy and has poor quality versus the forests of Brazil that have very clean air, meanwhile Kuala Lumpur is experiencing seasonal haze from month of July to October every year.  Polluting the air with any kind of foreignmaterial such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon mono-oxide, hydrogen sulphide, volatile organic compounds, chlorine, chloroform, chlorinedioxide and making environment dangerous to live for living species is called air pollution.

Air pollution is actually the accumulation of any unsafe substances to the atmosphere, which causes the destructive of the environment, human health and the quality of life.  The increasing of shipping industries has increased in air pollution and even though ships are operating far from land, more or less it has contributed to the increase in the death rates resulting from various diseases caused by air pollution varying from breathing problem to lung cancer. Air pollution does not only affect people, but it also damages the whole ecological system in which plants and animals are harmed as well. Air pollution has reached such a critical stage where it affects the earth’s atmosphere as it lets in more harmful radiation from the sun. Consequently, our polluted atmosphere is becoming a better insulator, thus, preventing heat from escaping back into space. That is why there is a global rise in temperature, which scientists refer to as ‘global warming’.  Pursuant to this rise in temperature the world food supply and sea level will be affected, also there is the probability of the increase in the tropical disease.

Air pollution also has a dramatic effect on natural resources.  Ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and rivers perform many important services for Earth’s environment.  They enhance water and air quality, provide habitat for plants and animals, and provide food and medicines. Any or all of these ecosystem functions may be impaired or destroyed by air pollution.  Moreover, because of the complex relationships among the many types of organisms and ecosystems, environmental contamination may have far-reaching consequences that are not immediately obvious or that are difficult to predict.

3.2.3 Global Warming

The excessive production of Carbon dioxide to the environment is one of the factors that have affected the ozone layer.Thus it willprevent some amount of solar energy from being radiated back to space. This phenomenon is known as the greenhouse effect which leads to global warming.Among the industrialized countries, USA, Russia, Japan and France are the largest contributors to this menace.USA alone accounts for 42% of the total carbon dioxide emission all over the wor1d.Most countries in this region like Malaysia and Indonesia are rapidly approaching the emission levels recorded.As of now a rise of average atmospheric temperature has been reported over the past 75 years and is likely to continue into the next century. Global warming has resulted in shrinking of glaciers and ice sheets; a rise of 6 to 37inches in the mean sea level is predicted by the year 2100.Low lying countries within this region such as Bangladesh and Indonesia risk getting submerged by the rising sea levels. Global warming will aggravate the water crisis in summer months. It would also lead to expansion of geographical range of tropical pests and will increase the chances of forest fires.

3.2.4 Ozone Depletions

The stratospheric ozone layer existing between altitudes of 12 to 35 kilometres is considered as a protective shield or an umbrella for the earth because it prevents the ultraviolet rays from reaching the surface of the earth.In the absence of this layer, no life would be possible because the sun rays would raise the temperature of the lower atmosphere making the earth a blast furnace. The importance of the ozone layer came to light in 1985 when a hole was detected over Antarctica.Chloro Flouro Carbons or CFCs are the group of the gases, which are largely responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer. These synthetic chemicals are widely used as propellants in spray cans, air conditions and refrigerators. Thus CFCs in addition to carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are termed as greenhouse gases as they all contribute to the greenhouse effect. In addition to this, Ozone layer depletion has caused a definite rise in the cases of skin cancer it is estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) that 12% decrease in the ozone layer would cause skin cancer in up to half a million people per annum.

3.2.5 Acid Rain

Acid rain is the serious pollution hazard. It causes irreparable damage to agricultural crops, forests, aquatic life and even the human body. It corrodes buildings, pollutes the drinking water and degrades soil. Major sources of sulphur dioxide emission are thermal power plants, crude oil refineries and automobiles, which together account for 50% of the sulphur dioxide pollution.Rainwater of pH less than 5.6 is considered acidic. Emissions of waste gases from industries, vehicle exhausts and power generation are causes of rainwater acidity.When the pH levels of lakes and rivers fall below about 5.5, many species of fish will die, and this in turn is followed by changes in the ecosystem.Acid rain is corrosive to metals such as iron and zinc roof, marble and limestone.Low pH values have been attributed by an increased in industrial activity and large numbers of motor vehicles emitting considerable amounts of sulphur and nitrogen compounds into the atmosphere.Acid rain is detrimental to life and life-support systems. Acidity is measured by hydrogen ion concentration, designated as pH, and is measured on a scale of 1 to 14. A pH value below 7 is acidic, and above 7 is alkaline.Rain acidity in Peninsular Malaysia is on the rise and the number of areas affected by acid rain is growing. Studies by the Meteorological Service Department exposed that, to date the acid rain is becomingworrying environmental problem.


Most of the international environmental law is based on agreement or treaty.With regard to the protection of the marine environment, Malaysia adheres to a number of international conventions. The treaties are as follows:

  1. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982.
  2. Maritime Pollutions Convention (MARPOL), 73/78.
  3. International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation (OPRC), 1990.
  4. International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, 1992.
  5. International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage 1992.

Treaties are made to be performed. ‘Pacta sunt servanda’ or the rule that treaties arebinding on the parties and must be performed in good faith is the fundamental principle of customary international law. This principle has been reaffirmed in Article 26 of theVienna Convention on the law of Treaties 1969, ‘Every treaty in force is binding uponthe parties to it and must be performed in good faith’.

Therefore, Malaysia is obliged to the binding laws and thus not excluding the RMN in this context. This paper will only discuss one domestic rule and twointernational treaties as to examine and relate the degree of the RMN compliance in environmental issues.

3.3.1 Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Act 1984

The Exclusive Economic Zone Act 1984 is an important Malaysian statute devised to implement certain aspects of the UNCLOS 1982.Part IV of the EEZ Act deals with p

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