Singapore Strait



The Singapore Strait is a waterway south of Singapore which links the Strait of Melaka to the South China Sea. Before the age of European colonialism, it was an important shipping route used by traders and travellers plying between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. The founding of Singapore in 1819 and the developments that followed saw a dramatic increase of shipping traffic to these waters, thus increasing the Singapore Strait’s importance as the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.1 The Singapore Strait is currently one of the busiest commercial routes in the world.2

Description
The Singapore Strait is situated south of Singapore, between the south-eastern tip of the Malay Peninsula and north of Indonesia’s Riau Islands. Running east and west, it connects the southern end of the Melaka Strait at its western end to the South China Sea at its eastern end.3


The entire length of the Singapore Strait is approximately 113 km and its average width is about 19 km. It separates Singapore from the two fairly large Indonesian islands of Batam and Bintan, as well as smaller islands in the Riau archipelago.4 At the narrowest part of the strait, the distance between Singapore and Indonesia is about 5 km.5

History
The Singapore Strait is located between two major trading zones – the trading zone of greater Bay of Bengal in the west and the mainland and trading ports of the South China Sea in the east.6 Before the advent of Europeans into the Indian Ocean Basin in the 15th century, the strait was an important shipping route used by traders and travellers plying between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.7

There is an early reference to Singapore and the Singapore Strait in Daoyi Zhilue, an account in Chinese text by Wang Dayuan, a Chinese trader who travelled extensively in Southeast Asia during the first half of the 14th century. Singapore in the 14th century and earlier was the site of a settlement known as Temasek (the name probably means “sea town”).8 In his book, Wang mentioned Temasek and he gave the name long ya men (which means “dragon’s teeth gate”) to what is believed to be the western entrance of the present Keppel Harbour (a natural deep water harbour located at the southern part of Singapore).9 Another account of long ya men appeared in Wu Bei Zhi, a record of the routes taken by Admiral Cheng Ho, compiled by Mao Yuan I in 1621. Wu Bei Zhi contains a map as well as directions for passage through long ya men.10

In the 16th century Portuguese mariners travelled frequently through the Strait of Melaka and the South China Sea on voyages between India and Macau in China.11 The Portuguese, who had occupied Melaka in 1511 and were not on good terms with the sultans of Johore, were looking for an alternative route to the strait between Singapore and Johore. Guided by their Malay pilots, the Portuguese mariners came to know the passage south of Singapore. This passage is clearly marked in Portuguese-Malay explorer Manuel Godinho d’Eredia’s 1604 map, Descripsao Chorographica dos Estreitos de Singapura de Sabbam (Plate 63), as estreito velho, or “old strait”.12

In 1595, Dutchman Jan Huyghen van Linschoten published the first European sailing directions for the journey from Melaka to Macau in his book, Reys-Gheschrift van de Navigatien der Portugaloysers in Orienten (Travel account of Portuguese Navigators in the Orient).13 Linschoten had joined the Portuguese marine service in 1583 and worked in Goa until his return to the Netherlands in 1589. During that time, he managed to make unauthorised copies of Portuguese mariners’ rutters which contained sailing instructions and which he collated and published after his return to the Netherlands. Linschoten’s account included detailed instructions for sailing through Keppel Harbour.14

Historically, the name Singapore Strait was applied to a number of maritime routes through the waterway linking the Melaka Strait and the South China Sea. There were four basic routes: Old Strait of Singapore, New Strait of Singapore, Tebrau Strait or Strait of Johor, and Phillip’s Channel (also known before the 1800s as Governor’s Strait, or Strait of John de Silva). The western entrance of the Old Strait of Singapore was marked by a pillar-shaped rock at what is now Labrador Park and known throughout history by various names, including Dragon’s Teeth Gate, Batu Berlayar, Varella or Varela, and Lot’s Wife.15 By the beginning of the 19th century, the route through the Old Singapore Strait had gradually passed out of use.16 Phillip’s Channel is the main fairway of the modern Singapore Strait.17



Author
Vernon Cornelius-Takahama



References
1. Port of Singapore Authority. (1984). Singapore: Portrait of a port: A pictorial history of the port and harbour of Singapore 1819–1984. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 779.93871095957 SIN)
2. Beckman, R. C., Gundy-Warr, C., & Forbes, V. L. (1994). Acts of piracy in the Malacca and Singapore Straits. Maritime Briefing, 1(4), 1–37, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING q364.164 BEC); Jayakumar, S., & Koh, T. (2009). Pedra Branca: The road to the world court. Singapore: NUS Press in association with the MFA Diplomatic Academy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 341.448095957 JAY)
3. Liow, J. C. (2015). Dictionary of the modern politics of Southeast Asia. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, p. 339. (Call no.: RSEA 320.95903 LIO); Beckman, R. C., Gundy-Warr, C., & Forbes, V. L. (1994). Acts of piracy in the Malacca and Singapore Straits. Maritime Briefing, 1(4), 1–37, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING q364.164 BEC)
4. Beckman, R. C., Gundy-Warr, C., & Forbes, V. L. (1994). Acts of piracy in the Malacca and Singapore Straits. Maritime Briefing, 1(4), 1–37, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING q364.164 BEC)
5. Liow, J. C. (2015). Dictionary of the modern politics of Southeast Asia. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, p. 339. (Call no.: RSEA 320.95903 LIO); Beckman, R. C., Gundy-Warr, C., & Forbes, V. L. (1994). Acts of piracy in the Malacca and Singapore Straits. Maritime Briefing, 1(4), 1–37, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING q364.164 BEC)
6. Borschberg, P. (2010). The Singapore and Melaka Straits: Violence, security and diplomacy in the 17th century. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING 911.16472 BOR)
7. Beckman, R. C., Gundy-Warr, C., & Forbes, V. L. (1994). Acts of piracy in the Malacca and Singapore Straits. Maritime Briefing, 1(4), 1–37, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING q364.164 BEC)
8. Lim, A. J. J. (1991). Geographical setting. In E. C. T. Chew, & E. Lee (Eds.), A history of Singapore (pp. 3–14). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 HIS-[HIS])
9. Lim, A. J. J. (1991). Geographical setting. In E. C. T. Chew, & E. Lee (Eds.), A history of Singapore (pp. 3–14). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 HIS-[HIS]); Miksic, J. N., & Low, C.-A. M. G. (Eds.). (2004). Early Singapore, 1300s–1819: Evidence in maps, text and artefacts. Singapore: Singapore History Museum, pp. 43–45, 95. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 EAR-[HIS])
10. Miksic, J. N., & Low, C.-A. M. G. (Eds.). (2004). Early Singapore, 1300s–1819: Evidence in maps, text and artefacts. Singapore: Singapore History Museum, pp. 191–192. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 EAR-[HIS])
11. Port of Singapore Authority. (1984). Singapore: Portrait of a port: A pictorial history of the port and harbour of Singapore 1819–1984. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 779.93871095957 SIN)
12. Miksic, J. N., & Low, C.-A. M. G. (Eds.). (2004). Early Singapore, 1300s–1819: Evidence in maps, text and artefacts. Singapore: Singapore History Museum, p. 97. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 EAR-[HIS])
13. Miksic, J. N., & Low, C.-A. M. G. (Eds.). (2004). Early Singapore, 1300s–1819: Evidence in maps, text and artefacts. Singapore: Singapore History Museum, p. 97. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 EAR-[HIS]); Port of Singapore Authority. (1984). Singapore: Portrait of a port: A pictorial history of the port and harbour of Singapore 1819–1984. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 779.93871095957 SIN)
14. Miksic, J. N., & Low, C.-A. M. G. (Eds.). (2004). Early Singapore, 1300s–1819: Evidence in maps, text and artefacts. Singapore: Singapore History Museum, p. 97. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 EAR-[HIS])
15. Borschberg, P. (2010). The Singapore and Melaka Straits: Violence, security and diplomacy in the 17th century. Singapore: NUS Press, pp. 22, 26–40. (Call no.: RSING 911.16472 BOR)
16. Port of Singapore Authority. (1984). Singapore: Portrait of a port: A pictorial history of the port and harbour of Singapore 1819–1984. Singapore: MPH Magazines, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 779.93871095957 SIN)
17. Borschberg, P. (2010). The Singapore and Melaka Straits: Violence, security and diplomacy in the 17th century. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 36. (Call no.: RSING 911.16472 BOR)



Further resource
Gibson-Hill, C. A. (1956). Singapore old strait & new harbour, 1300–1870. Singapore: G.P.O.
(Call no.: RSING 959.51 BOG)



The information in this article is valid as at 2015 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
Streets and Places
Singapore Strait
Straits--Singapore
Waterways--Singapore
Law and government>>Trade (Commerce)
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Arts>>Architecture>>Architectural structure