Mountains Under the Sea

First and foremost, I would like to thank the Royal Malaysian Navy and Petronas, the joint organisers of this event, for allowing me the honour to officiate this important meeting. I would also like to record my commendations to the Organising Committee from the Royal Malaysian Navy, working hand in hand with Petroliam Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS) for organising this meaningful meeting. 

On behalf of the Government of Malaysia, I would like to express our sincerest welcome and Selamat Datang to all, especially to the delegates from around the world for participating in this 32nd Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names Meeting or SCUFN 32. This is the first-ever SCUFN Meeting being held in the South East Asia region, and it is a great honour indeed for Malaysia to be hosting this maiden meeting in the region. Surprisingly, SCUFN 32 has gathered the most participants with the presence of 34 foreign delegates, including both SCUFN members and observers.

Your participation is a testament to our dedication to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly goal 14 i.e. to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development – by promoting standardized geographical names of undersea features and managing our oceans better. 

The nations of Southeast Asia have always been major maritime players. Those old civilizations such as Srivijaya, Champa, and the various Malay Sultanates were among the first to set sail around the world. Here in Malaysia, in Bahasa Melayu, we refer to our homeland as “tanah air”, a compound word in which tanah refers to land, and air refers to the sea. It is an inherently maritime conceptualisation of our nationhood, speaking to our inseparable connection to the sea.

Geographically, Southeast Asian states are located near the focal point of maritime trade. We are a maritime nation, with our coastlines facing towards the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Sulu and the Celebes Sea, and the Straits of Malacca. The natural beauty of these spaces makes them very attractive for tourists that crave exotic spaces. Meanwhile, fisheries, aquaculture, and mariculture is a large part of the lives of the various communities that sustained their livelihood, while also important in ensuring food security for our people by the way of providing constant source of protein. Our seabed is also rich with hydrocarbons, making the oil and gas industry a key economic player as well. And there are still numerous potential natural resources and seabed minerals that have yet to be explored and exploited sustainably.

As we forge the way ahead in our development as Blue Economies, we must devise a comprehensive approach to Ocean governance. Climate change is threatening the health of our oceans in unprecedented, irreversible ways, and in turn jeopardising the well-being of our nations and our people, whose lives greatly depended on these waters. We must also account for pollution control, marine ecosystem health, and prevent overfishing. Unsustainable exploitation of marine resources including Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, and marine pollution threaten to render our maritime spaces unfit. Indeed, if we are not careful, certain irresponsible actions of some players may result in damage in this collective goods, and a loss for all.

In the spirit of cooperation, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) allows and encourages technical cooperation in marine science collaboration, sharing of experience and best practices, capacity-building, managing marine hazards, as well as in raising awareness on marine and ocean-related issues, wherever such efforts facilitate cooperation and peaceful dispute settlement. 

In a similar vein, maritime-based economic activities also depend heavily on the stability and security of maritime spaces. In addition to growing great power competition in South East Asia, we must also contend with our own maritime boundary disputes and transnational criminal activity. These issues must be resolved over carefully and strategically over the years so that all may benefit from the richness of our maritime space.

Therefore, we should seek to work under common goals and to create opportunities for greater maritime cooperation, rather than focusing  solely on the exclusive right and entitlement of any single nation. Our region need not play zero sum games. Our disputes should not preclude cooperation and collective action.

Malaysia has indeed proven the viability of such a stance in maritime cooperation through the Memorandum of Understanding on Joint Development Area between Malaysia & Thailand in 1979, and through the technical experts collaboration in producing the Malaysia-Vietnam Joint Submission for extended continental shelf claim under Article 76 of UNCLOS 1982, which was submitted in 2009. These agreements should serve as a basis for our dispute resolutions as we go forward.

In view of these issues, hopefully we will see more cooperation and perhaps joint proposals in naming the undersea features exercise in the future. The motion adopted by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) through SCUFN encourages any party who wishes to name significant undersea features to follow several guidelines rather than to name an undersea feature arbitrarily and unilaterally. We must always remember that unregulated or offhand naming of undersea features can lead to unnecessary confusion, such as usage of the same name for different features, multiple naming of the same feature by different institute, countries or language.

Constructive activities such as this meeting will enhance the maritime cooperation called by UNCLOS, particularly in building capacities, capabilities and expertise, and subsequently developing professional skills in managing undersea feature names. It is my fervent hope that this event would also serve as a platform to cooperate, interact and share multilateral approaches in the way forward for the better governance of the oceans.

This meeting will be looking at 187 proposals from 12 countries to be tabled, and no doubt it will indeed be a long and tiring meeting that would unavoidably involve disagreements and disputes. In the spirit of cooperation, I hope we are able to amicably discuss these proposals, with the greater, collective good of our oceans in mind. With that, I am most delighted and honoured to declare 32nd Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names officially open. 

*Opening address at the 32nd Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names, Kuala Lumpur Concention Centre, 5th July 2019

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