Among the most important international waterways since the 7th century, the Straits of Malacca connects the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, linking the major Asian economies of India, China, Japan, South Korea and ASEAN with the rest of the world. The tremendous growth in international trade has resulted in a corresponding increase in the volume of commercial traffic traversing through this major sea lane.
Between 2000 and 2010, the number of merchant vessels exceeding 300 GRT using the Straits increased by almost 37 per cent. LNG/LPG tankers using the Straits registered 26 per cent growth from 2,962 to 3,726 while container and general cargo vessels rose 41 per cent over the same period. These figures exclude cross traffic and other vessel types plying the waterway. In addition almost 50 per cent of global energy shipments pass through the Straits annually. While reflective of the positive growth and relevance of the Straits in facilitating international trade, it also raises a whole set of challenges in balancing the economic viability and environmental sustainability of the area.
The Straits is not only a shipping lane. It is home to both living and non living natural assets such as fisheries, mangrove forests, and coral reefs. It is a thriving mariculture and recreation resource centre, generating a wide range of marine life support systems as well as a critical source of economic livelihood for its coastal inhabitants. These assets are under tremendous pressure as the Straits becomes busier each year. Oil and chemical pollution, ballast water and solid waste discharges, vessel accidents and incidents are major threats to this delicate balance which if not properly managed, have the potential to adversely affect the livelihood of the surrounding communities and threaten the nation's long term economic sustainability.
The Centre for the Straits of Malacca (CSOM) was launched by YAB Dato' Sri Mohd. Najib Tun Abdul Razak on 21st October 2008. It marked the beginning of a new chapter for MIMA especially in elevating the management paradigm of the Straits towards transforming it into a modern and dynamic maritime passageway. CSOM's vision is to be a one-stop centre of excellence for research and an authoritative source on matters pertaining to the Straits and its connected waterways.
SOM is dedicated towards realizing a common vision for the Straits of Malacca by littoral states and stakeholders aimed at enhancing the management of the Straits and its viability as an economic catalyst for the region. The Centre's research focuses on promoting the Straits' economic sustainability, navigational safety and security, safeguarding its marine and maritime environment, clarification of transit passage issues as well as encouraging policy and management initiatives to foster the socio-economic and strategic development of the Straits. CSOM's "Profile of the Straits of Malacca: Malaysia's Perspective" outlines Malaysia's vision and definition of the Straits from several key aspects and the myriad issues currently facing the Straits.