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Overlapping boundaries and port development

Overlapping boundaries and port development
Competition for space is one of the main causes of land disputes and it is a truism that this competition gets more intense the better located the space is.

As such, in a situation where the Malaysian state of Johor with the third biggest economy and the second biggest population but only the fifth largest land area abuts one of the world’s smallest countries with one of the highest GDPs, there is bound to be a problem.

Singapore’s success has spilled over to its northern neighbour and helped it grow as well. Not only have industries moved to cheaper, relatively more abundant land in Johor, many Singaporeans now also live across the border while Malaysians from other parts of the country flock to the prosperous state to share in the economic gains.

As the demand for space for both of these needs grows, issues are bound to arise. Recent announcements by a China-based property developer to reclaim land in the middle of the west Johor Strait that separates the two countries has ruffled some feathers.

At this point it seems like nothing more than posturing for political gain as notably, the complaints have come from one of the opposition parties in Malaysia, the DAP. It claims that land reclamation for the Forest City project will increase sedimentation in the narrow strait and pose a risk to the Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP) as the approach channel becomes shallower. There have also been claims that space taken for the massive housing project would impede PTP’s ability to expand

In typical politician’s fashion, Malaysian transport minister Liow Tiong Lai has sidestepped the issue, saying it involved more than just his ministry. He was quoted in local media as saying: “This is an issue for both the Transport Ministry and the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.” Liow, who was recently appointed in a cabinet reshuffle also asked for more time to examine the matter as he had just taken over.

“To me, the Transport Ministry is watching this closely and as the newly appointed minister I have asked for a detailed report. When I get the report, I will decide what to do,” Liow said.

The Johor Port Authority (JPA), which is in charge of all three ports in Johor, has meanwhile dismissed concerns that the navigation of vessels in the waterway will be affected.

JPA general manager Muhammad Razif Ahmad was quoted as saying that all port operations were going on as usual and no vessel operators have reported obstacles caused by reclamation work along the straits.

“There have been no reports that port operations at the Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP), Pasir Gudang Port and Port of Tanjung Langsat are affected. We are also hoping that such a problem will never occur,” he said.

Muhammad also did not see any issue with expansion for PTP. In fact, giving an upbeat forecast, he revealed a policy document directing future development. He said: “The Port Development Policy Blueprint will be the beacon to chart the path for us over the next 32 years.”

Port industry watchers have had mixed reactions to news of the reclamation. While some note that PTP is some way off any further expansion as they have just completed Berths 13 and 14 and have no plans to build more soon, others believe in the longer term future, expansion may be impacted. Projections on silting will be based on hydrographic modelling at best until the results can be verified on the ground.

If the latter’s predictions transpire then other major port developments such as Singapore’s PSA’s move to transfer its container terminals to Tuas on the Singapore side of the strait may also face issues.