Straits of Malacca link Asia to the Indian Ocean, and therefore to the Indian sub-continent, Arabian Gulf, Africa and, via the Suez Canal, to Europe. This is the world’s busiest trade route, linking three of the largest industrial areas (China-Korea-Japan, India and western Europe) with each other. At the southern end of the straits lies Singapore, one of the busiest ports that handles all types of cargoes. Although Singapore has always been an important shipping centre, it rose to prominence in the 1960s and currently is one of the world’s major container ports and also one of the world’s major bunker ports.

Important cargoes that pass through the Straits of Malacca – Containers (especially those with electronic goods and vehicle parts), grain; minerals, steel. Originating in the Arabian Gulf, a large percentage of Asia’s crude oil requirements move through the straits, while oil products move in both directions – from refineries in the Arabian Gulf and from Asian refineries, particularly in Singapore, for India and Africa.

Times when the Straits of Malacca were in the news: During the Japanese advance down the Malayan Peninsula to Singapore in World War 2, the Straits of Malacca became an important war zone, and was a no-go area for Allied shipping for several years. Once the Japanese had surrendered in 1945 and the British returned to Singapore, normal shipping activities resumed the straits and in Singapore.

The straits remain extremely important for the volume of transiting ships that carry a wide variety of cargo to and from most Asian nations, the Pacific Ocean area and Australasia.

Although the problem has declined in recent years, piracy remains a danger for which ships need to prepare as they transit the straits.



Aboard a containership in the busy Straits of Malacca. Note the number of ships in close quarters to the vessel from which this photograph was taken. Photograph : Captain Charles Kingon