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Tensions rise as Greek ship hits Malaysian vessel off Singapore

The Port of Singapore (Photo by DearEdward from New York, NY, USA [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

SINGAPORE: Tensions between Malaysia and Singapore rose after a Malaysian vessel and a Greek-registered bulk carrier collided off Tuas on Saturday, according to a statement on the website of Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). Both Singapore and Malaysia claimed the accident occurred in its own territorial waters.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said late Saturday that the Greek vessel and its crew have been detained, the Straits Times reported. The Malaysian vessel, Polaris, was anchored while the Greek carrier, Piraeus, was sailing at the time of the collision, and there were no injuries to the crew of both vessels, according to the report.

Piraeus was on its way from Singapore to its next port of call at Tanjung Pelepas when the collision took place at about 2.28pm on Saturday, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore said in its statement.

“MPA is deeply concerned that the presence of the unauthorised vessels in our port limits can cause confusion for the international shipping community and threaten navigational safety in our waters,” the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore said in the statement. The authority is investigating the incident, it said.

Malaysia and Singapore have had testy relations since Malaysia evicted the island from the Malaysian Federation in 1965, ending a brief and stormy union of the former British colonies.

Ties have gone up and down over the years but have been shaky since Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad -- who has long had a prickly relationship with Singapore -- returned to the premiership with a shock election victory last year.

Maritime tensions began rising late last year when Singapore accused Malaysia of extending its claims in the strait that separates the neighbours into what had long been accepted as the city-state's territorial waters.

The city-state, one of the world's busiest cargo ports, said Malaysian vessels were repeatedly encroaching into its waters -- an accusation denied by Malaysia.

Both sides claimed that Saturday's collision off Tuas, in western Singapore, had happened in their own waters. The accident did not cause any injuries or lead to an oil spill.

"The collision between MV Pireas and Malaysian government vessel Polaris took place in Singapore territorial waters," a Singapore foreign ministry statement said.

"Singapore reiterates its call for Malaysia to withdraw its vessels from the area, as the persistent presence of its vessels clearly poses a threat to safety of navigation in the area," the statement said, adding Malaysia would be responsible for any "untoward situations" that arise.

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