THE International Court of Justice (ICJ) has declared that sovereignty over Middle Rocks belongs to Malaysia while Singapore has the right to govern Pulau Batu Puteh (PBP).
The court said that sovereignty over South Ledge would belong to the "state in the territorial waters of which it is located".
It said the ICJ was constituted to determine sovereignty and not the maritime boundary.
There was hardly any reaction from both camps after ICJ vice-president Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh completed reading the majority judgment that took almost two hours.
It was a 12-4 ruling to declare that PBP belonged to Singapore, 15-1 to award Middle Rocks to Malaysia and 15-1 that sovereignty over South Ledge belonged to the state in the territorial waters of which it is located.
The decision is final and is not appealable.
Tracing historical events prior to 1953, the court said it was clear that the Johor Sultanate had sovereignty over the island, almost the size of a football field, from time immemorial.
It said the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 determined the sphere of influence between Britain and The Netherlands.
The court said the Johor empire was divided into two: new Johor empire and the Riau-Lingga Sultanate.
"Historical facts, however, point that PBP belonged to Johor," the judgment said.
The court noted that Britain and, subsequently, Singapore conducted activities on the island.
It said the Colonial secretary of Singapore had written a letter dated June 12, 1953 to the British Adviser to the Johor Sultan, asking information about PBP.
"In a letter dated Sept 21, 1953, the acting State Secretary of Johor replied that the Johor government did not claim ownership of the island," it said.
The court said it considered the correspondence and found that Johor's reply showed that as of 1953, the state understood that it did not have sovereignty over PBP.
"That letter of denial was binding as it was an undertaking from Johor that she would not claim ownership of the island," it said.
The court also noted that even after 1953, Malaysia did not undertake any activities compared with Singapore.
It also did not protest when Singapore installed military communication equipment in 1977 and proposed reclamation plans to extend the island.
"The court concluded that the conduct of Singapore and its predecessor and the failure by Malaysia to respond, showed that by 1980 sovereignty over PBP had passed to the island republic."
Malaysia and Singapore made oral submissions before the 16-member bench last November.
The Malaysian legal team was led by Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Mohamad, former ambassador to The Netherlands Datuk Noor Faridah Ariffin, Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, Professor James Crawford, Prof Nicolaas Jan Schrijver, Professor Marcelo G Cohen and Penelope Nevill.
The dispute began when Singapore lodged a protest note in 1980 after Malaysia published a continental shelf map the previous year, showing the island as part of her territory.
In 1993, Singapore expanded her claim by including Little Rocks and South Ledge as part of its territorial waters.
The then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir and his counterpart agreed to refer the dispute to the ICJ in 1994 after failing to resolve it through bilateral means.
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