Home Pertahanan dan Keselamatan #Pertahanan: Ardous task for littoral states to marshall Malacca Straits

#Pertahanan: Ardous task for littoral states to marshall Malacca Straits

by Air Times Correspondent

LUMUT, 10 JULY – Marshalling vessels plying the Straits of Malacca, was an arduous task as it was a choke point and important international passageway.

The country’s first local Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) chief, Rear-Admiral (Rtd) Tan Sri K. Thanabalasingam said that there had been a lot of discussions on this, with the littoral states (Malaysia and Indonesia) and the super-powers (like the United States), but they just could not resolve the issue easily.

“For instance, there was a suggestion to have all nuclear-powered warships and submarines to declare their presence, while transiting the straits.

“Neither Malaysia nor Indonesia can enforce this rule by imposing restrictive conditions to secure the area, as the straits is an international waterway,” said Thanabalasingam, who at one time briefly served as the acting Defence Forces chief when General Tunku Osman Tunku Mohamad Jewa (first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra’s nephew) was abroad on official duty.

Asked if it was appropriate to accept ready-made, used vessels of foreign navies, he said it was not practical.

“To order to expeditiously purchase ready-made sophisticated vessels (or even aircraft), we have to ensure that the crew handling them were adequately trained to operate and maintain them.

“This will take considerable time, for the crew to familiarise with the vessel’s operating systems,” said Thanabalasingam.

When Britain decided to withdraw its forces East of Suez in 1968, Thanabalasingam had his hands full in the RMN’s rapid expansion.

During the RMN’s infancy, it had several operational vessels, a naval base and just over 1,500 personnel.

“One of my first major tasks was to procure surface-to-surface missiles to thwart communist terrorists infiltrating arms and personnel by sea across southern Thailand, on the east and west coasts of the peninsula.

“The terrorists preferred to come by sea as the Malaysia-Thailand border was tightly controlled by the security forces,” he said, adding that by 1974 the RMN had expanded its fleet from 18 to 32 vessels.

Thanabalasingam, popularly called Bob Thana in naval circles, experienced the two Emergencies (1948-1960 and 1967-1989) and the Confrontation with Indonesia (1963-1966).

He joined the RMN in Singapore on May 1, 1955 and became one of the pioneer nine cadets sent to Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) at Dartmouth in England in December that year.

After graduating from BRNC on May 1, 1958, Thanabalasingam served briefly onboard the British frigate HMS Chichester before the RMN was established on July 1 that same year.

“I was invited to be transferred from the British Royal Navy to the Malayan outfit in October 1958.

“My first posting was as an instructor at the Federation Military College in Port Dickson in 1959, before I was posted out for sea duties in April 1960, for six years,” said Thanabalasingam, who turned 87 on March 12.

When he was serving as the resident naval officer, as well as KD Tawau’s commanding officer in Sabah, the government had earmarked him to eventually helm the RMN.

“It was a time when (the then prime minister) Tunku Abdul Rahman wanted local sons to helm the tri-services – the army, navy and air force.

“I was groomed to helm the RMN, while (Air Vice-Marshal Tan Sri) Sulaiman Sujak for the Royal Malaysian Air Force, (General Tan Sri) Hamid Bidin as Army chief and Tunku’s nephew General Tunku Osman Jewa as the armed forces chief,” he said.

Within 1967, Thanabalasingam was meteorically promoted a record four times (from lieutenant to lieutenant-commander, then to commander, captain and commodore) to become RMN chief on Dec 1 the very year at the age of 31.

He, however, prematurely retired in 1976 at the age of 40, along with Sulaiman at age 42.

To date, he remains the youngest and longest serving RMN chief, as well as the only non-Malay service chief.

He is a member of the prestigious “Chiefs Circle”, reserved for retired tri-services and armed forces chiefs and is life patron of the Retired RMN Officers Association.

Thanabalasingam, who was trained as an anti-submarine specialist and diver in 1963, had steamed the newly acquired KD Sri Kelantan home from Britain.

He was instrumental in the planning and construction of the naval bases in Lumut, Perak, and Kuantan, Pahang, as the RMN relocated out of Singapore’s Woodlands and Sembawang bases.

He had introduced the MM38 Exocet missiles into the RMN during his tenure and even had recommended that the navy be equipped with submarines, way back then. – airtimes.my

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