KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia needs a robust framework of legal and regulatory instruments that govern maritime activities given the rise in transnational commercial trade, says Federal Court judge Nallini Pathmanathan.
Nallini said for Malaysia to remain competitive, it requires a myriad of laws and amendments to current laws so that they are in line with international standards.
This will provide confidence, certainty and predictability to people of commerce, both domestically and internationally, she added.
“It is not only in times of enterprise and profit but also when things go wrong. To that extent, insolvency laws also need to meet international standards.
“The importance of cross-border laws, which are modern and in keeping with the more developed jurisdictions like Singapore, Japan, Korea and the Western countries, cannot be underscored,” she said in her keynote address at the third Maritime Law and Business Conference 2023 today.
The two-day conference is organised by the International Malaysian Society of Maritime Law (IMSML).
She said Malaysia’s coastline is adjacent to the Straits of Melaka where an estimated 80,000 ships pass through every year. It faces competition in the maritime industry, foremost from Singapore, while Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia are catching up.
Indonesia’s master plan includes the development of a port larger than Tanjong Priok (near Jakarta) and the relocation of its capital city to Kalimantan.
“Thailand plans to construct a land bridge connecting the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, which would allow ships to transfer cargo from East to West and West to East via the Grand Canal or Crown land bridge. That would seriously impact our maritime industry,” she added.
Nallini emphasised that Malaysia ought to have its own laws tailor-made to meet the needs of the country. At present, Malaysia does not have a comprehensive body of legislation tailored to the country’s own unique circumstances, she added.
She said Malaysia continued to rely on borrowed legislation from the United Kingdom, much of which had been long superseded even there, for example, the Bills of Lading Act of 1855.
She said the body of law governing shipping and admiralty practice was international and evolving to meet the needs of changing times, bringing a perennial challenge for the legal fraternity, which often contended with intricate shipping issues.
“This makes the handing down of commercially practical and just decisions for the benefit of the shipping community a constant challenge,” she said.
Hence, she said Malaysia’s maritime laws were in need of further reform to meet the needs of the domestic maritime industry and the nation.
“At stake is the potential and future of our trade and commerce and our ability to survive and retain our economic success and reputation as a maritime trading nation,” she said.
Malaysia enjoys a thriving shipping and maritime trade industry and is among the world’s top 25 trading nations.
Almost 90% of Malaysia’s trade is seaborne, and the maritime industry contributes about 40% of the country’s gross domestic product.