January 10, 2024
SINGAPORE – The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will contribute personnel to Operation Prosperity Guardian, an international maritime security force formed to respond to attacks by Yemeni Houthi rebels against shipping in the Red Sea.
Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen told Parliament on Jan 9 that SAF’s deployment will involve sending a team from the Republic of Singapore Navy’s Information Fusion Centre to support information sharing, and a team of planners to work with international partners on operational plans.
A senior national representative for the Republic will also be sent to the 39-nation Combined Maritime Forces’ (CMF) headquarters in Bahrain, he added.
“It is in our interest for Singapore to join cause with the international community to protect and ensure that key sea lines of communication around the world remain open, especially if threatened by unlawful acts by non-state actors or terrorist groups,” he said.
Dr Ng was responding to a question by Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) about how the Red Sea attacks impact Singapore’s maritime security, and whether the SAF will be contributing to this effort.
The Defence Minister noted that since Jan 7, Yemen-based Houthi forces have attacked about 20 merchant ships in the Red Sea with missiles and attempted to hijack the vessels. The Singapore-flagged Maersk Hangzhou, a container ship owned and operated by Denmark, was also attacked.
The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have said the attacks are meant to show support for Palestinian armed group Hamas in its war with Israel in the Gaza Strip.
The attacks resulted in all five of the world’s largest shipping companies suspending transits through the Red Sea, which is the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia, noted Dr Ng.
He said the immediate impact on Singapore from the ongoing attacks is expected to be limited, as the majority of the Republic’s critical supplies such as food and pharmaceuticals are delivered by air freight or do not pass through the Red Sea.
Local manufacturers likely also have sufficient spare inventory to hedge against supply disruption, but he noted that they are worried about increased business costs.
Dr Ng said Singapore is contributing to the coalition operation in the Red Sea – launched by the United States on Dec 19, 2023 – as it aligns with the three principles of maritime security cooperation that the Republic articulated at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2005 when the Malacca Strait and Singapore Strait were threatened by piracy and sea robbery.
The principles are that primary responsibility for maritime security lies with the littoral states; that the international community has a role to play; and that cooperation has to be in accordance with international law and respectful of the sovereignty of the littoral states.
Operation Prosperity Guardian comes under Combined Task Force 153, one of five task forces under the CMF. Singapore has been a member of the CMF since 2009.
Dr Ng said the military operation is focused primarily on keeping a key sea line of communication free, just as Singapore would want the assistance of the international community if the same thing happened in regional waters.
“Nonetheless, we recognise and we have articulated that the littoral states (there) have the primary responsibility, and there must be sufficient efforts there, and that’s why we encourage the littoral states and other countries to work towards a diplomatic solution so that the Red Sea problem can be mitigated,” he said.
Separately on Gaza, Dr Ng said Singapore and the SAF have continued to monitor developments in the region and the ongoing need for humanitarian assistance.
He said the SAF has accepted an invitation by the French Armed Forces to provide two medical personnel to serve on the French ship Dixmude.
Docked at El Arish Port in Egypt, the Dixmude is a reconfigured hospital ship that has been treating casualties from Gaza.
“The SAF has accepted the offer, and plans are under way to deploy this medical team to aid civilian casualties there,” Dr Ng said.