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An Urgent Need to Inaugurate RMN Naval Region 4 HQ in Bintulu, Sarawak

MALAYSIA has affirmed its status as a “maritime nation” in the 2019 Defence White Paper (DWP). Keeping this in mind, there is a convincing need for the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) to constantly construct its navy towards becoming a more resilient and forceful fleet.

Therefore, there is an urgent need for the government to inaugurate the Headquarters (HQ) Naval Region 4 in Bintulu, Sarawak, also referred to as Markas Wilayah Laut 4 (MAWILLA 4).

At the moment, the Sarawak coast and its Economic Exclusive Zone is overseen by HQ Eastern Fleet in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

With the length of the Sabah and Sarawak coastlines recorded at 1,743km and 1,035km, respectively, the navy is expected to face challenges in allocation of assets and personnel between these two points of contact.

A country that has extensive coastlines and access to sea but limited ports, harbour and base will lead to poor accessibility and response time during a crisis, exposing it to external threats.

Currently, RMN has five main naval bases at important maritime flashpoints.

HQ Western Fleet in Lumut, Perak, manages Peninsular Malaysia and HQ Eastern Fleet manages East Malaysia.

HQ Western Fleet and the HQ Naval Region 3 (MAWILLA 3) in Langkawi, Kedah, watch over the west of the peninsula, which is connected to the Bay of Bengal and Andaman sea, a hotspot for illegal seaborne threats, smuggling and trafficking activities. It also looks out over the Malacca Straits, the busiest international trading route.

HQ Naval Region 1 (MAWILLA 1) is located in Kuantan, Pahang, and shields the east coast of the peninsula, a common area for foreign fishermen encroachments.

HQ Eastern Fleet is cardinal to guard Malaysia’s maritime interest in the South China Sea (SCS) and the HQ Naval Region 2 (MAWILLA 2) is pivotal for Sandakan to oversee the Sulu Sea. It also keeps an eye on the Celebes Sea in Indonesia.

With the construction of MAWILLA 4, the RMN can beef up its readiness to protect the nation’s maritime interest in SCS. Beting Patinggi Ali (BPA) is a point to stress, a frequent area for China’s maritime incursions. Its recent air intrusion demonstrates the challenges faced by RMN.

At the moment, RMN has a continuous presence in BPA and Spratly Islands. Setting up base will reduce the overstretched logistical support from Sabah to oversee these areas. Moreover, the physical existence of MAWILLA 4 will deny China’s effort to persistently seek to the alter status quo there.

Although Indonesia adheres to its non-claimant status in SCS, the Badan Keamanan Laut Republik Indonesia, or Bakamla, has beefed up its efforts to prevent Chinese intrusions in the Natuna Islands, close to Sarawak waters. In this sense, MAWILLA 4 can better support the RMN in the area.

MAWILLA 4 can also be a supporting ground for economic activities. Geological provinces of Sarawak, namely West Baram Delta, Balingian, Central Luconia, Tinjar, Tatau, West Luconia, and North Luconia have fish stocks and hydrocarbons.

Oil and gas is abundant there. In enhanced oil recovery projects, predominant companies have invested heavily in Sabah and Sarawak, and the profit it can generate is enormous.

In 2019, Petronas paid RM2.95 billion in sales tax back to Sarawak, a five per cent profit from a total RM59 billion income generated from the state’s oil production.

Hence, the RMN plays a significant role in ensuring security of the area and providing support for accessibility and continuity of offshore projects. It is worth noting that in many cities and towns, military bases serve as a driver for the local economy.

For these reasons, the MAWILLA 4 project must begin promptly. This base will affirm our claims in SCS, provide security assurance to the local maritime community and impact the socioeconomy of Bintulu positively in the long run.

Article by Dr Tharishini, senior lecturer at the Department of Strategic Studies and a Centre of Defence and International Security Studies (CDISS) research fellow at the Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia

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