Strait of Johor

by _People:Cornelius, Vernon

The Strait of Johor is situated north of Singapore, between mainland peninsula Malaysia and Singapore.1 The Territorial Waters Agreement of 1927 specified an imaginary line in the Johor Strait as an international boundary. In 1994, a new boundary line was drawn to help resolve future border disputes. There are no marker buoys indicating the actual border line, as this deep waterway is used as a shipping lane.

The Causeway and Second Link are two bridges that cross over the Strait of Johor, linking Malaysia and Singapore via road and rail. There are also plans to construct a rapid transit system and high-speed rail to further link the two countries.

The Johor Strait appears in Manuel Godinho de Erédia’s 1604 map as “Salat Tubro” and in Jean-Baptiste d’Apres de Mannevillette’s 1775 map as “Det. De Salete Baro”. The strait was often wrongly labelled as the “Old Strait of Singapore”, such as in J. B. Tassin’s 1837 map and J. N. Bellin’s 1755 map.2

The term “Johor Strait” did not come into use until the 1890s.3 It was also called the Tebrau Strait.4

A group of people known as orang seletar once roamed the northern creeks of Singapore along the present Johor Strait until the 1850s when other locals began to inhabit the area.5

The 50-kilometre-long Strait of Johor sits between Singapore and Johor at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. There are two bridges crossing the strait. One is the Causeway, a rail-and-road link between Johor Bahru in Malaysia and Woodlands in Singapore.6 The other, known as the Second Link, connects Tanjung Kupang in Johor and Tuas in Singapore by road only.7

International passageway through road
The Johor Strait is a deep waterway and has been used as a shipping lane.8

During the colonial period, the British built their naval base in Sembawang on the strait. On 2 December 1941, famous warships such as the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse made stopovers there.9

First border agreement
In 1927, the Territorial Waters Agreement was made between the governments of the Straits Settlements and the State of Johor. The treaty specified an imaginary line in the Johor Strait as an international boundary between Johor and Singapore.10

Subsequent border agreement
With the shifting of the Johor Strait due to land reclamation by both Singapore and Johor, it became difficult to determine the boundary along certain stretches of the deep-water channel. Thus, it became imperative for Malaysia and Singapore to reach an agreement on the boundary line. Both countries decided that a formal agreement on a definite final boundary line would help to resolve border disputes if they occurred.11

Surveys began in 1982 to properly define the boundary. Talks between Malaysia and Singapore spanned for 14 years before the Boundary Agreement was finalised during their seventh meeting on 14 October 1994. The new boundary was drawn through precise coordinates based on the results of joint hydrographic surveys to determine territorial waters. As the strait is used for shipping, there are no marker buoys to indicate the actual border line for safety reasons.12

Key features
The development of a causeway in the Strait of Johor linking Singapore to Malaya began in 1919 at a cost of about $17 million. Prior to this, one had to take a ferry to cross over to Malaya.13 The causeway was opened to traffic in October 1923,14 and officially opened on 28 June 1924 by then Governor Laurence Guillemard in the presence of the sultan of Johor.15

An agreement between the governments of Malaysia and Singapore was signed on 22 March 1994 to build a second link.16 It was opened for public use on 2 January 1998,17 and officially opened on 18 April the same year by Singapore’s then prime minister Goh Chok Tong and his Malaysian counterpart, Mahathir Mohamed.18

Future projects

There are plans in place for Singapore and Malaysia to further connect the two countries: a High-Speed Rail (HSR), known as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR project19 and the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link, which would link Singapore to Johor Bahru.20 Both lines would cross over the Strait of Johor and have joint customs immigration and quarantine facilities for more efficient travelling.21   

Several rivers flow into the Johor Straits from Singapore. They include:
Sungei Sembawang22
Sungei Buloh Kechil23
Sungei Buloh Besar24
Sungei Simpang25
Sungei Melayu26
Sungei Perempan Besar27
Sungei Cina28
Sungei Mandai29
Sungei Mandai Kechil30
Sungei Khatib Bongsu31
Sungei Batu Kekek32
Sungei Besar33
Sungei Mamam34

Singapore islands
The islands situated in this waterway include:
Pulau Ubin35
Pulau Tekong36
Coney Island (Pulau Serangoon)37
Pulau Buloh38
Pulau Sarimbun39
Pulau Punggol Barat40
Pulau Punggol Timor41 
Pulau Pergam42
Pulau Seletar43

Malay names

Johor Strait was originally known as Selat Tebrau. In Malay, tebrau refers to “big fish”, and selat means “strait”.44 Tebrau also refers to large areas of grassland-like prairies.45 The strait is also known as Selat Johor.46


Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

1. George Bogaars, The Tanjong Pagar Dock Company, 1864–1905 (Singapore: G. P. O., 1956), 6 (Call no. RCLOS 959.51 BOG); Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Johore Strait, accessed 10 April 2018.
2. National Library Board, Singapore, Visualising Space: Maps of Singapore and the Region (Singapore: National Library Board, 2015), 66–68. (Call no. RSING 911.5957 SIN)
3. Bogaars, Tanjong Pagar Dock Company, 6.
4. C. M. Turnbull, A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), 24, 56. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
5. Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 24, 56.
6. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Johore Strait; “Johor Causeway,” Straits Times, 1 October 1923, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Warren Fernandez, “Regional Crisis Draws S’pore, Malaysia closer,” Straits Times, 19 April 1998, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Ismail Kassim, “Pact on Boundary in Straits of Johor,” Straits Times, 15 October 1994, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
9. W. David McIntyre, The Rise and Fall of the Singapore Naval Base, 1919–1942 (London: Macmillan, 1979), 47, 186 (Call no. RSING 359.7 MAC); Turnbull, History of Modern Singapore, 177.
10. Kassim, “Pact on Boundary in Straits of Johor.” 
11. Kassim, “Pact on Boundary in Straits of Johor.” 
12. Kassim, “Pact on Boundary in Straits of Johor.” 
13. “The Causeway,” Malayan Saturday Post, 5 July 1924, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Johore Causeway,” Straits Times, 26 September 1923, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “The Johore Causeway Last Saturday’s Brilliant Official Opening,” Malayan Saturday Post, 5 July 1924, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Ho Kay Tat, “Singapore and Malaysia Sign Agreement to Build Second Link,” Business Times, 23 March 1994, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Leong Chan Teik, “Advance Warning of Jams to Be Given,” Straits Times, 31 December 1997, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Fernandez, “Regional Crisis Draws S’pore, Malaysia closer.” 
19. Royston Sim, “KL, Singapore Sign Deal for High-Speed Rail,” Straits Times, 14 December 2016, 1; “High-Speed Rail Pact a Milestone,” Straits Times, 14 December 2016, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Singapore-JB Rapid Transit System to Be Linked via High Bridge over Straits of Johor,” Channel News Asia, 13 December 2016. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
21. Royston Sim, “Singapore, Malaysia Ink Bilateral Agreement to Build Rapid Transit System Link by 2024,” Straits Times, 16 January 2018. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
22. Mighty Minds Street Directory (Singapore: Angel Publishing, 2017), map 2. (Call no. RSING 912.5957 MMSD-[DIR])
23. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 8.
24. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 8.
25. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 14.
26. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 7.
27. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 7.
28. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 1, 11.
29. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 10.
30. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 10.
31. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 15.
32. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 33.
33. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 33.
34. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 34.
35. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 32–35.
36. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 35A, 55.
37. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 31.
38. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 8.
39. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 6.
40. Mighty Minds Street Directory, maps, 16, 29.
41. Mighty Minds Street Directory, maps 29–30.
42. Mighty Minds Street Directory, maps, 16, 36.
43. Mighty Minds Street Directory, map 15.
44. Bahri Rajib, “What’s in a Name,” Straits Times, 4 December 1990, 13 (From NewspaperSG); Peter Borschberg, The Singapore and Melaka Straits: Violence, Security and Diplomacy in the 17th Century (Singapore: NUS Press, 2010), 267. (Call no. RSING 911.16472 BOR)
45. Rajib, “What’s in a Name.” 
46. Rajib, “What’s in a Name.” 

The information in this article is valid as at April 2018 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.


Johor Strait
Streets and Places
Territorial waters--Singapore