Pedra Branca



Pedra Branca is an outlying island situated about 24 nautical miles (45 km) to the east of mainland Singapore.1 It is located at the eastern entrance of the Singapore Strait, from the South China Sea.2 The island is a reef of light grey granite, although corals have encrusted those areas below sea level.3 Horsburgh Lighthouse, the first lighthouse built in Singapore, sits on a solitary rock on the island.4

History
Many shipping vessels have run aground in the rock-reef waters of Pedra Branca, with the earliest reported accidents from Portuguese mariners in the 1500s. Dutch voyager Johann Van Linschoten wrote in 1583 about a “Pedra Bianque, a white rock, where the shippes that come and goe to and from China, doe oftentymes passe in great danger and some are left upon it…”.5 Chinese sailors also recorded a bai jiao close to Singapore.6 To the experienced seafarer, Pedra Branca served as a navigational marker that warned ships of the proximity of dangerous waters.7 However, accidents and losses became increasingly numerous with the rise of commerce and shipping in the region. John Turnbull Thomson, then Government Surveyor for the Straits Settlements, found 16 reports of vessel accidents in the area between 1824 and 1851. The Portugese brig Dauado, with 500,000 Spanish dollars  on board, and British barque Sylph, carrying opium worth 557,200 Spanish dollars, were among them.8


Construction of Horsburgh Lighthouse
In 1836, British merchants recommended the construction of a lighthouse as a tribute to the late East India Company hydrographer, James Horsburgh, whose charts and books had been invaluable in the safeguarding of ships in Asia.9 This Canton-based effort was initiated when a sailor wrote in to the Canton Register there, suggesting a way of honouring Horsburgh. The suggestion was quickly followed by a public meeting chaired by leading British merchant William Jardine at Marwick’s Hotel. The meeting concluded that a lighthouse in Horsburgh’s name would be most appropriate, and a subscription to collect funds for its construction was started.10

Thomson began planning for the lighthouse in 1847, building brick pillars on the island in November to determine the force of the waves. Approval from the East India Company to construct the lighthouse came in late 1849, and work began in 1850. Granite was quarried from Pulau Ubin. The foundation stone was laid on 24 May 1850, on the occasion of Queen Victoria‘s birthday.11 The lighthouse was completed in 1851 and began operating on 15 October that year.12

Subsequent additions and improvements
Improvements and modernisation of the lighthouse’s revolving light system were made over the decades, most notably in 1887 and 1930.13 However, it was only in 1948 that the lighthouse itself was expanded with the construction of a building around the base of the lighthouse as living quarters for the crew.14

In 1962, a radio beacon was added, and in 1966, the kerosene light source was replaced with an electric light.15 A decade later in 1977, a military rebroadcast station was installed to improve air and naval communications.16 With the implementation of a Vessel Traffic Information System by the Port of Singapore Authority, a radar tower was added to Horsburgh and other lighthouses in 1989.17 This was followed by a helipad in 1992.18

Ownership dispute with Malaysia
On 21 December 1979, Malaysia published a new map marking the boundaries of its territorial waters and continental shelf, and claimed for the first time that Pedra Branca was Malaysian territory. Singapore formally protested the map in February 1980, with a diplomatic note requesting amendments to the map.19 Some 14 years of tension ensued until the two countries agreed to submit the dispute to the International Court of Justice in 1994. The formal agreement to do so, however, was signed only a decade later on 24 July 2003.20

The case was recorded by the International Court of Justice as “Sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge”.21 It was debated by the court from 2004 to 2007.22 Judgement was passed on 23 May 2008. The court ruled Pedra Branca as belonging to Singapore, while Middle Rocks – a nearby pair of small rocks permanently above water – was pronounced as part of Malaysia.23

South Ledge, being a low-tide elevation (submerged at high tide but exposed at low tide),was not considered claimable as sovereign territory but would fall under the jurisdiction of whichever state’s territorial waters it was located in.24 A hydrographic survey was subsequently conducted and concluded in 2012 to implement the decision of the International Court of Justice, particularly the mapping of  South Ledge in order to determine which side had jurisdiction over it.25

Description
Pedra Branca is situated at latitude 1° 19’ 48” N and longitude 104° 24’ 27” E. Consisting of granite, it is 137 m long with an average width of 60 m, and spans a total area of 0.86 ha.26 According to Thomson, the island’s white appearance was due to the guano (bird droppings) of numerous seabirds that use it as a resting place.27

The island is off limits to the public.28

Variant names
Portuguese: Pedra Branca or Bianque, which means “white rock”.29
Malay: Batu Putih, which means “white rock”.30
Chinese: 白礁 (Bai Jiao), which means “white rock”, as recorded in the 15th- century 郑和航海图.31



Author

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama



References
1. International Court of Justice. (2008). Reports of judgements, advisory opinions and orders: Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, judgment of 23 May 2008. Hague: International Court of Justice, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 341.448095957 INT)
2. Great Britain, Hydrographic Dept. (1946). Malacca Strait pilot: Comprising Malacca Strait and its northern approaches, Singapore Strait, and the west coast of Sumatra. London: Hydrographic Department, Admiralty, pp. 208, 217. (Call no.: RCLOS 623.8929595 GRE-[GBH])
3. Thomson, J. T. (1852). Account of the Horsburgh Lighthouse [Microfilm no.: NL 1890]. In J. R. Logan (Ed.), The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, 6 (pp. 376–498). Singapore: J. R. Logan, p. 383.
4. Hall-Jones, J. (1995). The Horsburgh Lighthouse. Invercargill, N. Z.: Author, pp. 6, 10, 11. (Call no.: RSING 623.8942 HAL); Gillis, K., & Tan, K. (2006). The book of Singapore’s firsts. Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society, p. 101. (RSING 959.57 GIL-[HIS])
5. Van Linschoten, J. H. (1598). John Hvighen van Linschoten, his discours of voyages into ye Easte & West Indies: Devided into foure books (The First Booke) (W. Phillip, Trans.). London: John Wolfe, pp. 35–36. Retrieved from BookSG.
6. 海军海洋测绘研究所 [Naval Institute of Hydrographic Surveying and Charting]. (1988). 《新编郑和航海图集》. 北京: 人民交通出版社, pp. 57, 61. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 951.06 XBZ)
7. Thomson, J. T. (1852). Account of the Horsburgh Lighthouse [Microfilm no.: NL 1890]. In J. R. Logan (Ed.), The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, 6, (pp. 376–498). Singapore: J. R. Logan, p. 385; Horsburgh, J. (Ed.). (1852). India directory, or, directions for sailing to and from the East Indies, China, Australia, and the interjacent of ports Africa and South America (6th ed., Vol. 2) [Microfilm no.: NL 28303]. London: W. H. Allen and Co., p. 266.
8. Thomson, J. T. (1852). Account of the Horsburgh Lighthouse [Microfilm no.: NL 1890]. In J. R. Logan (Ed.), The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, 6 (pp. 376–498). Singapore: J. R. Logan, pp. 385–390.
9. Buckley, C. B. (1984).  An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819–1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 510. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
10. Pavitt, J. A. L. (1966). First pharos of the Eastern seas: Horsburgh Lighthouse: A chronicle. Singapore: Donald Moore Press, pp. 2–4. (Call no.: RDLKL 627.922095957 PAV)
11. Thomson, J. T. (1852). Account of the Horsburgh Lighthouse [Microfilm no.: NL 1890]. In J. R. Logan (Ed.), The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, 6 (pp. 376–498). Singapore: J. R. Logan, pp. 390, 402–404, 427–428.
12. Thomson, J. T. (1852). Account of the Horsburgh Lighthouse [Microfilm no.: NL 1890]. In J. R. Logan (Ed.), The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, 6 (pp. 376–498). Singapore: J. R. Logan, p. 494; [Untitled]. (1851, September 23). Straits Times and Singapore Journal of Commerce, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. ½ mil. candlepower for Horsburgh Lighthouse. (1966, April 20). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Chao, H. T. (2007, November 6). Oral argument by Mr. Chai Hick Tin, Attorney-General of the Republic of Singapore on 6 November 2007. Retrieved 2017, December 17 from Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: https://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/media_centre/special_events/pedrabranca/press_room/sp_tr/2007/200711/press_200711_27.html
15. Kadir Mohamad. (2015). Malaysia Singapore: Fifty years of contentions, 1965-2015. Kuala Lumpur: The Other Press, p. 110. (Call no.: RSING 327.59505957 KAD); ½ mil. Candlepower for Horsburgh Lighthouse. (1966, April 20). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. International Court of Justice. (2008). Reports of judgements, advisory opinions and orders: Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, judgment of 23 May 2008. Hague: International Court of Justice, p. 87. (Call no.: RSING 341.448095957 INT)
17. Radar equipment being put up at Horsburgh Lighthouse. (1989, July 21). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Heah, E. S. M. (1990, July). Singapore Vessel Traffic Information System (VTIS). Port View: A fortnightly publication of the Port of Singapore Authority, 1(12), 1-2. (Call no.: 387.1095957 PV); Chao, H. T. (2007, November 6). Oral argument by Mr. Chai Hick Tin, Attorney-General of the Republic of Singapore on 6 November 2007. Retrieved 2017, December 17 from Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: https://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/media_centre/special_events/pedrabranca/press_room/sp_tr/2007/200711/press_200711_27.html
18. Chao, H. T. (2007, November 6). Oral argument by Mr. Chai Hick Tin, Attorney-General of the Republic of Singapore on 6 November 2007. Retrieved 2017, December 17 from Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: https://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/media_centre/special_events/pedrabranca/press_room/sp_tr/2007/200711/press_200711_27.html
19. Jayakumar, S., & Koh, T. (2009). Pedra Branca: The road to the world court. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 1–2, 18–19. (Call no.: RSING 341.448095957 JAY)
20. International Court of Justice. (2008). Reports of judgements, advisory opinions and orders: Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, judgment of 23 May 2008. Hague: International Court of Justice, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 341.448095957 INT). Jayakumar, S., & Koh, T. (2009). Pedra Branca: The road to the world court. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 33. (Call no.: RSING 341.448095957 JAY)
21. International Court of Justice. (2008). Reports of judgements, advisory opinions and orders: Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, judgment of 23 May 2008. Hague: International Court of Justice. (Call no.: RSING 341.448095957 INT)
22. Jayakumar, S., & Koh, T. (2009). Pedra Branca: The road to the world court. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 64–124. (Call no.: RSING 341.448095957 JAY)
23. International Court of Justice. (2008). Reports of judgements, advisory opinions and orders: Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, judgment of 23 May 2008. Hague: International Court of Justice, p. 101. (Call no.: RSING 341.448095957 INT)
24. International Court of Justice. (2008). Reports of judgements, advisory opinions and orders: Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, judgment of 23 May 2008. Hague: International Court of Justice, pp. 1, 14, 95–96, 99, 101. (Call no.: RSING 341.448095957 INT)
25. Chang, R. (2013, February 20). Next step: Drawing up maritime boundaries. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. International Court of Justice. (2008). Reports of judgements, advisory opinions and orders: Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, judgment of 23 May 2008. Hague: International Court of Justice, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 341.448095957 INT)
27. Thomson, J. T. (1852). Account of the Horsburgh Lighthouse [Microfilm no.: NL 1890]. In J. R. Logan (Ed.), The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, 6 (pp. 376–498). Singapore: J. R. Logan, p. 378.
28. Singapore. The statutes of the Republic of Singapore. (2002 Rev. ed.). Protected Areas and Protected Places Act (Chapter 256), Protected Places No. 4 Order 2002. Retrieved 2017, May 1 from Singapore Statues Online: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=DocId%3A%223496282e-684c-4d93-9202-65a330e13815%22%20Status%3Ainforce%20Depth%3A0%20ValidTime%3A%2215%2F06%2F2016%22%20TransactionTime%3A%2215%2F06%2F2016%22;rec=0;whole=yes
29. Van Linschoten, J. H. (1598). John Hvighen van Linschoten, his discours of voyages into ye Easte & West Indies: Devided into foure books (The First Booke) (W. Phillip, Trans.). London: John Wolfe, pp. 35–36. Retrieved from BookSG.
30. Jayakumar, S., & Koh, T. (2009). Pedra Branca: The road to the world court. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 6–8. (Call no.: RSING 341.448095957 JAY); Thomson, J. T. (1852). Account of the Horsburgh Lighthouse [Microfilm no.: NL 1890]. In J. R. Logan (Ed.), The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, 6 (pp. 376–498). Singapore: J. R. Logan, p. 378.
31. 海军海洋测绘研究所 [Naval Institute of Hydrographic Surveying and Charting]. (1988). 《新编郑和航海图集》. 北京: 人民交通出版社, pp. 6, 57, 61. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 951.06 XBZ)



The information in this article is valid as at 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Architecture and Landscape>>Architectural Styles
Singapore offshore islands
Geography>>Geographical Areas and Countries>>Singapore Offshore Islands
Arts>>Architecture>>Architectural structure
Architecture
Islands--Singapore