International Court of Justice (ICJ) Rules on Singapore-Malaysia Pedra Branca / Pulau Batu Puteh Case

23 May 2008

In a historic moment marking a milestone in Malaysia-Singapore relations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has made its ruling on the dispute over the sovereignty and ownership of an island and its two rocky outcrops in the eastern entrance to the Straits of Singapore, off the South China Seas.

The three geographical entities that are the subjects of the claims from Singapore and Malaysia comprise :
  • the island of Pedra Branca, referred to as Pulau Batu Puteh (Malay for 'white rock island') by Malaysia;
  • Middle Rocks - an outcrop of rocks 0.6 nautical miles off Pedra Branca;
  • South Ledge - an outcrop of rocks further to the south, visible only during low tide.

Map of Pedra Branca / Pulau Batu Puteh

The map below shows the position of Pedra Branca in relation to Singapore and the southern state of Johor, Malaysia. The island is about 24 nautical miles from mainland Singapore, and 7.7 nautical miles from the southeastern coast of Johor.
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The ICJ made known its ruling in a two-hour brief starting at 23 May 2008 08:00 UTC at its headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. The results awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore, Middle Rocks to Malaysia and left the question of who owns South Ledge unresolved. Specifically, the court found that "sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the State in the territorial waters of which it is located", indicating that it considers the sovereignty of the waters surrounding South Ledge to be open to contention. The 16-member adjudication panel of judges voted as follows:

  • Pedra Branca / Pulau Batu Puteh - 12 votes for Singapore vs 4 for Malaysia;
  • Middle Rocks - 15 votes for Malaysia vs 1 for Singapore;
  • South Ledge - 15 votes vs 1, for finding "that sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the State in the territorial waters of which it is located.".
Both the Singapore and Malaysia governments had previously affirmed their mutual understanding that they will accept the ICJ's ruling and work to facilitate the operational management of the island which lies in a high-traffic sea-way for international maritime transport. The Horsburgh Lighthouse (named after Captain James Horsburgh, a hydrographer with the East India Company in the 19th Century) was erected on the island by the British in 1851 and is currently managed by Singapore.

The press release of the court's ruling can be download from here.