Strait of Malacca

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Strait of Malacca
Strait of malacca.jpg
The Strait of Malacca connects the Pacific Ocean to the east with the Indian Ocean to the west
Location Andaman Sea-Karimata Strait
Coordinates 4°N100°E / 4°N 100°E / 4; 100 (Strait of Malacca) Coordinates: 4°N100°E / 4°N 100°E / 4; 100 (Strait of Malacca)
Type Strait
Native name Malay: Selat Melaka
Indonesian: Selat Malaka
Thai: ช่องแคบมะละกา
Tamil: மலாக்கா நீரிணை
Chinese :马六甲海峡
Basin  countriesThailand
Min. width2.8 km (1.7 mi)
Average depth25 metres (82 ft) (minimum) [1]
Settlements Malacca City
Port Klang
Satun Province

The Strait of Malacca (Malay : Selat Melaka, Indonesian : Selat Malaka, Thai : ช่องแคบมะละกา, Tamil : மலாக்கா நீரிணை, Chinese :马六甲海峡) or Straits of Malacca is a narrow, 550 mi (890 km) stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula (Peninsular Malaysia) and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. [2] As the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, it is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. It is named after the Malacca Sultanate that ruled over the archipelago between 1400 and 1511.

Malay language Austronesian language

Malay is an Austronesian language spoken in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as parts of Thailand. A language of the Malays, it is spoken by 290 million people across the Strait of Malacca, including the coasts of the Malay Peninsula of Malaysia and the eastern coast of Sumatra in Indonesia and has been established as a native language of part of western coastal Sarawak and West Kalimantan in Borneo. It is also used as a trading language in the southern Philippines, including the southern parts of the Zamboanga Peninsula, the Sulu Archipelago and the southern predominantly Muslim-inhabited municipalities of Bataraza and Balabac in Palawan.

Indonesian language official language of Indonesia

Indonesian is the official language of Indonesia. It is a group of varieties of Malay, an Austronesian language that has been used as a lingua franca in the multilingual Indonesian archipelago for centuries. Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world. Of its large population, the majority speak Indonesian, making it one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.

Thai language language spoken in Thailand

Thai, Central Thai, is the sole official and national language of Thailand and the first language of the Central Thai people. It is a member of the Tai group of the Kra–Dai language family. Over half of Thai vocabulary is derived from or borrowed from Pali, Sanskrit, Mon and Old Khmer. It is a tonal and analytic language, similar to Chinese and Vietnamese.



The International Hydrographic Organization define the limits of the Strait of Malacca as follows: [3]

International Hydrographic Organization Intergovernmental organization

The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) is an intergovernmental organization representing hydrography. In October 2019 the IHO comprised 93 Member States.

On the West. A line joining Pedropunt, the Northernmost point of Sumatra ( 5°40′N95°26′E / 5.667°N 95.433°E ) and Lem Voalan the Southern extremity of Goh Puket [Phuket Island] in Siam [Thailand] ( 7°45′N98°18′E / 7.750°N 98.300°E ).

On the East. A line joining Tanjong Piai (Bulus), the Southern extremity of the Malay Peninsula ( 1°16′N103°31′E / 1.267°N 103.517°E ) and The Brothers ( 1°11.5′N103°21′E / 1.1917°N 103.350°E ) and thence to Klein Karimoen ( 1°10′N103°23.5′E / 1.167°N 103.3917°E ).

On the North. The Southwestern coast of the Malay Peninsula.

On the South. The Northeastern coast of Sumatra as far to the eastward as Tanjong Kedabu ( 1°06′N102°58′E / 1.100°N 102.967°E ) thence to Klein Karimoen.


The Strait of Malacca as viewed from the city of Malacca, Malaysia. Pulau Besar is visible in the distance. Melaka-strait.jpg
The Strait of Malacca as viewed from the city of Malacca, Malaysia. Pulau Besar is visible in the distance.

Early traders from Arabia, Africa, Persia, and the Southern Indian kingdoms reached Kedah before arriving at Guangzhou. Kedah served as a western port on the Malay Peninsula. They traded glassware, camphor, cotton goods, brocades, ivory, sandalwood, perfume, and precious stones. These traders sailed to Kedah via the monsoon winds between June and November. They returned between December and May. Kedah provided accommodations, porters, small vessels, bamboo rafts, elephants, as well as tax collections for goods to be transported overland toward the eastern ports of the Malay Peninsula such as Langkasuka and Kelantan. After the Tenth Century, ships from China began to trade at these eastern trading posts and ports. Kedah and Funan were famous ports throughout the 6th century, before shipping began to utilize the Strait of Malacca itself as a trade route.

Africa The second largest and second most-populous continent, mostly in the Northern and Eastern Hemispheres

Africa is the world's second largest and second most-populous continent. At about 30.3 million km2 including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of Earth's total surface area and 20% of its land area. With 1.2 billion people as of 2016, it accounts for about 16% of the world's human population. The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The continent includes Madagascar and various archipelagos. It contains 54 fully recognised sovereign states (countries), nine territories and two de facto independent states with limited or no recognition. The majority of the continent and its countries are in the Northern Hemisphere, with a substantial portion and number of countries in the Southern Hemisphere.

Iran A country in Western Asia

Iran, also called Persia, and officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia. With 82 million inhabitants, Iran is the world's 18th most populous country. Its territory spans 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi), making it the second largest country in the Middle East and the 17th largest in the world. Iran is bordered to the northwest by Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, to the north by the Caspian Sea, to the northeast by Turkmenistan, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and to the west by Turkey and Iraq. Its central location in Eurasia and Western Asia, and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, give it geostrategic importance. Tehran is the political and economic center of Iran, and the largest and most populous city in Western Asia with more than 8.8 million residents in the city and 15 million in the larger metropolitan area.

India Country in South Asia

India is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by area, the second-most populous country, and the most populous democracy in the world. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal on the southeast, it shares land borders with Pakistan to the west; China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the north; and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. In the Indian Ocean, India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka and the Maldives; its Andaman and Nicobar Islands share a maritime border with Thailand and Indonesia.

In the 7th century the maritime empire of Srivijaya based on Palembang, Sumatra, rose to power, and its influence expanded to the Malay peninsula and Java. The empire gained effective control on two major choke points in maritime Southeast Asia; the Strait of Malacca and the Sunda Strait. By launching a series of conquests and raids on potential rival ports on both sides of the strait, Srivijaya ensured its economic and military domination in the region, which lasted for about 700 years. Srivijaya gained great benefits from the lucrative spice trade, e.g. the tributary trade system with China, and trade with Indian and Arab merchants. The Strait of Malacca became an important maritime trade route between India and China. The importance of the Strait of Malacca in global trade networks continued well into later centuries with the rise of the Malacca Sultanate in the 15th century, the Johor Sultanate, and the rise of the modern city-state of Singapore.

Srivijaya city-state based on the island of Sumatra

Srivijaya, was a dominant thalassocratic Indonesian empire based on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, which influenced much of Southeast Asia. Srivijaya was an important centre for the expansion of Buddhism from the 8th to the 12th century AD. Srivijaya was the first unified kingdom to dominate much of Indonesian archipelago. The rise of the Srivijayan Empire was parallel to the end of the Malay sea-faring period. Due to its location, this once powerful state developed complex technology utilizing maritime resources. In addition, its economy became progressively reliant on the booming trade in the region, thus transforming it into a prestige goods based economy.

Palembang City in South Sumatra, Indonesia

Palembang is the capital city of the Indonesian province of South Sumatra. The city proper covers 369.22 square kilometres of land on both banks of Musi River on the eastern lowland of southern Sumatra, with an estimated population of 1,708,413 in 2014. Palembang is the second most populous city in Sumatra, after Medan, the ninth most populous city in Indonesia, and the nineteenth most populous city in Southeast Asia. The Palembang metropolitan area comprises part of regencies surrounding the city such as Banyuasin, Ogan Ilir, and Ogan Komering Ilir, with a total estimated population of more than 3.5 million in 2015.

Sumatra Island in western Indonesia, westernmost of the Sunda Islands

Sumatra is an island in western Indonesia that is part of the Sunda Islands. It is the largest island that is located entirely in Indonesia and the sixth-largest island in the world at 473,481 km2.

Since the 17th century, the strait has been the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Different major regional powers managed the straits during different historical periods. [4]

In the early 19th century, the Dutch and British empires drew an arbitrary boundary line in the strait and promised to hunt down pirates on their respective sides; that line went on to become today's border between Malaysia and Indonesia. [2] The strait was already established as one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, with Indonesia controlling the majority of the sea lane. [5]

Economic importance

A ship sailing on the Strait of Malacca, as seen from Bukit Melawati in Kuala Selangor Ship on the Strait of Malacca from Bukit Melawati.jpg
A ship sailing on the Strait of Malacca, as seen from Bukit Melawati in Kuala Selangor

From an economic and strategic perspective, the Strait of Malacca is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world.

The strait is the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, linking major Asian economies such as India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. Over 94,000 vessels [6] pass through the strait each year (2008) making it the busiest strait in the world, [7] carrying about 25% of the world's traded goods, including oil, Chinese manufactured products, coal, palm oil and Indonesian coffee. [8] About a quarter of all oil carried by sea passes through the Strait, mainly from Persian Gulf suppliers to Asian markets. In 2007, an estimated 13.7 million barrels per day were transported through the strait, increasing to an estimated 15.2 million barrels per day in 2011. [9] In addition, it is also one of the world's most congested shipping choke points because it narrows to only 2.8 km (1.5 nautical miles) wide at the Phillips Channel (close to the south of Singapore). [10]

The maximum size (specifically draught) of a vessel that can pass through the Strait is referred to as Malaccamax, that is, for some of the world's largest ships (mostly oil tankers), the Strait's minimum depth (25 metres or 82 feet) is not deep enough. This is determined by the relatively shallow Singapore Strait, which provides passage to the Karimata Strait in the east. The next closest passageway (the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java) is even more shallow and narrow. Therefore, ships exceeding the Malaccamax must detour a few thousand nautical miles and use the Lombok Strait, Makassar Strait, Sibutu Passage, or Mindoro Strait instead.

Shipping hazards

Piracy has been a problem in the strait. Piracy had been high in the 2000s, with additional increase after the events of September 11, 2001. [11] After attacks rose again in the first half of 2004, regional navies stepped up their patrols of the area in July 2004. Subsequently, attacks on ships in the Strait of Malacca dropped, to 79 in 2005 and 50 in 2006. [12] Recent reports indicate that attacks have dropped to near-zero levels in recent years. [13]

There are 34  shipwrecks, some dating to the 1880s, in the local TSS channel (the channel for commercial ships under the global Traffic Separation Scheme). These pose a collision hazard in the narrow and shallow strait. [14]

On 20 August 2017, the United States Navy destroyer USS John S. McCain lost ten of its crew's lives in a collision with the merchant ship Alnic MC a short distance east of the strait whilst full steering capabilities had been lost and making a series of errors in attempted mitigation, its external lights being changed to "red over red" ("vessel not under command"). [15]

Yearly haze from the smoke of raging bush fires, limiting visibility. Malaysian Haze 2005 Aerosol Index.jpg
Yearly haze from the smoke of raging bush fires, limiting visibility.

Another risk is the annual haze due to bush fires in Sumatra, Indonesia. It may reduce visibility to 200 metres (660 ft), forcing ships to slow down in the busy strait. The strait is frequently used by ships longer than 350 metres (1,150 ft). [16]

Proposals to relieve the strait

Thailand has developed plans to divert much of the strait's traffic and hence some of its economic significance to a shorter route: the Thai government has, several times, proposed to cut a canal through the Isthmus of Kra, saving around 960 kilometres (600 mi) from the journey between the two oceans. China has offered to cover the costs, according to a report leaked to The Washington Times in 2004. Nevertheless, and despite the support of several Thai politicians, the prohibitive financial and ecological costs suggest that such a canal will not be built.

An alternative is to install a pipeline across the Isthmus of Kra to carry oil to ships waiting on the other side. Proponents calculate it would cut the cost of oil delivery to Asia by about $0.50/barrel ($3/m3). Myanmar has also made a similar pipeline proposal.

See also

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Straits Settlements former group of British territories located in Southeast Asia

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Malacca Sultanate historical state in Malaysia

The Malacca Sultanate was a Malay sultanate centred in the modern-day state of Malacca, Malaysia. Conventional historical thesis marks c. 1400 as the founding year of the sultanate by a Malay Raja of Singapura, Parameswara, also known as Iskandar Shah. At the height of the sultanate's power in the 15th century, its capital grew into one of the most important entrepôts of its time, with territory covering much of the Malay Peninsula, the Riau Islands and a significant portion of the northern coast of Sumatra in present-day Indonesia.

Sunda Strait strait between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra

The Sunda Strait is the strait between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. It connects the Java Sea to the Indian Ocean. The name came from Sunda Kingdom, a kingdom ruling the west part of Java. It also comes from the name of the Sundanese people, the native people of West Java, with the Javanese people being found mostly in Central and East Java.

Maritime Southeast Asia The maritime region of Southeast Asia as opposed to the mainland continental portion of Southeast Asia

Maritime Southeast Asia is the maritime region of Southeast Asia and comprises the countries of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and East Timor. Maritime Southeast Asia is sometimes also referred to as Island Southeast Asia, Insular Southeast Asia or Oceanic Southeast Asia. The 16th-century term "East Indies" and the later 19th-century term "Malay Archipelago" are also used to refer to maritime Southeast Asia.

Cargo ship ship or vessel that carries cargo, goods, and materials onboard from one port to another

A cargo ship or freighter ship is a merchant ship that carries cargo, goods, and materials from one port to another. Thousands of cargo carriers ply the world's seas and oceans each year, handling the bulk of international trade. Cargo ships are usually specially designed for the task, often being equipped with cranes and other mechanisms to load and unload, and come in all sizes. Today, they are almost always built by welded steel, and with some exceptions generally have a life expectancy of 25 to 30 years before being scrapped.

Port of Singapore port

The Port of Singapore refers to the collective facilities and terminals that conduct maritime trade, and which handle Singapore's harbours and shipping. It is ranked as the top maritime capital of the world, since 2015. Currently the world's second-busiest port in terms of total shipping tonnage, it also trans-ships a fifth of the world's shipping containers, half of the world's annual supply of crude oil, and is the world's busiest transshipment port. It was also the busiest port in terms of total cargo tonnage handled until 2005, when it was surpassed by the Port of Shanghai. Thousands of ships drop anchor in the harbour, connecting the port to over 600 other ports in 123 countries and spread over six continents.

Orang Laut ethnic group

The Orang Laut are several seafaring ethnic groups and tribes living around Singapore, peninsular Malaysia and the Riau Islands. The Orang Laut are commonly identified as the Orang Seletar from the Straits of Johor, but the term may also may refer to any Malay origin people living on coastal islands, including those of Andaman Sea islands of India and those in Thailand and Burma, commonly known as Moken.

Singapore Strait strait

The Singapore Strait is a 105-kilometer long, 16-kilometer wide strait between the Strait of Malacca in the west and the Karimata Strait in the east. Singapore is on the north of the channel and the Riau Islands are on the south. The Indonesia-Singapore border lies along the length of the strait.

Johor Sultanate sultanate

The Sultanate of Johor was founded by Malaccan Sultan Mahmud Shah's son, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah II in 1528. Johor was part of the Malaccan Sultanate before the Portuguese conquered Malacca's capital in 1511. At its height, the sultanate controlled modern-day Johor, Riau, and territories stretching from the river Klang to the Linggi and Tanjung Tuan, Muar, Batu Pahat, Singapore, Pulau Tinggi and other islands off the east coast of the Malay peninsula, the Karimun islands, the islands of Bintan, Bulang, Lingga and Bunguran, and Bengkalis, Kampar and Siak in Sumatra. In 1564 the Ottomans conquered the Sultanate during the Ottoman expedition to Aceh. During the colonial era, the mainland part was administered by the British, and the insular part by the Dutch, thus breaking up the sultanate into Johor and Riau. In 1946, the British section became part of the Malayan Union. Two years later, it joined the Federation of Malaya and subsequently, the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. In 1949, the Dutch section became part of Indonesia.

Cornelis Matelief de Jonge Dutch admiral

Cornelis Matelief de Jonge was a Dutch admiral who was active in establishing Dutch power in Southeast Asia during the beginning of the 17th century. His fleet was officially on a trading mission, but its true intent was to destroy Portuguese power in the area. The fleet had 1400 men on board, including 600 soldiers. Matelieff did not succeed in this. The Dutch would ultimately gain control of Malacca more than thirty years later, again joining forces with the Sultanate of Johor, and a new ally Aceh, in 1641. He was born and died in Rotterdam.

History of Kedah

Kedah, also written as Queda, and known in the early days as Qalha, Kalah Bar, Kalah or Kalaha by the Arabs and Persians, Cheh-Cha, Ka-Cha by the Chinese and Kedaram, Kidaram, Kalagam and Kataha by the Tamils, is an early kingdom on the Malay Peninsula and an important early trade centre. Early west-coast trade centres are few in number as they were overshadowed by Kedah. Her nearness to the entrances to the Straits of Malacca — and more importantly — being on latitude 6° north of the equator, the same as Ceylon to the south of India, meant that ships sailing the Bay of Bengal in a sea lane heading due east or west between the two were in little danger of becoming lost. The early transpeninsular routeway is part of the sea trade route of the Spice Route for Arab, Persian, Tamil Nadu and India-to-China traders, as the route through the Straits does not seem to have been in general use. Early sea traders from the west, upon reaching the coast, engaged porters to transport goods by raft, elephant and man-carry along the rivers to the opposite coast. The Sungai Muda in particular favoured the development of Kedah.

Piracy in the Strait of Malacca

Piracy in the Strait of Malacca has for long been a threat to ship owners and the mariners who ply the 900 km-long sea lane. In recent years, coordinated patrols by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore along with increased security on vessels have sparked a sharp downturn in piracy.

Malaccamax largest tonnage of ship capable of fitting through the Strait of Malacca

Malaccamax is a naval architecture term for the largest tonnage of ship capable of fitting through the 25-metre-deep (82 ft) Strait of Malacca. Bulk carriers and supertankers have been built to this tonnage, and the term is chosen for very large crude carriers (VLCC). They can transport oil from Arabia to China. A typical Malaccamax tanker can have a maximum length of 333 m (1,093 ft), beam of 60 m (197 ft), draught of 20.5 m (67.3 ft), and tonnage of 300,000 DWT.

Thai Canal Proposed canal

The Thai Canal, also known as Kra Canal or Kra Isthmus Canal, refers to proposals for a canal that would connect the Gulf of Thailand with the Andaman Sea across the Kra Isthmus in southern Thailand. It is envisaged that such a canal would improve transportation in the region, similar to the Panama Canal and Suez Canal.

Piracy in Indonesia is not only notorious, but according to a survey conducted by the International Maritime Bureau, it was also the country sporting the highest rate of pirate attacks back in 2004, where it subsequently dropped to second place of the world's worst country of pirate attacks in 2008, finishing just behind Nigeria. However, Indonesia is still deemed the country with the world's most dangerous water due to its high piracy rate. With more than half of the world's piracy crimes surrounding the South-East Asia aquatic regions, the turmoil caused by piracy has made the Strait of Malacca a distinct pirate hotspot accounting for most of the attacks in Indonesia, making the ships that sail in this region risky ever since the Europeans arrived. The term 'Piracy in Indonesia' includes both cases of Indonesian pirates hijacking other cargo and tanks, as well as the high rate of practising piracy within the country itself. The Strait of Malacca is also one of the world's busiest shipping routes as it accounts for more than twenty-five percent of the world's barter goods that come mainly from China and Japan. Approximately 50,000 vessels worth of the world's trade employ the strait annually, including oil from the Persian Gulf and manufactured goods to the Middle East and Suez Canal. The success that stems from this trade portal makes the Strait an ideal location for pirate attacks.

Peninsular Malaysia mainland, western portion of the nation-state of Malaysia in South East Asia

Peninsular Malaysia, also known as Malaya or West Malaysia, is the part of Malaysia which lies on the Malay Peninsula and surrounding islands. Its area is 132,265 square kilometres (51,068 sq mi), which is nearly 40% of the total area of the country - or slightly larger than England. It shares a land border with Thailand to the north and Singapore at the southernmost tip.

The Malacca Strait Bridge is a proposed bridge that would connect Telok Gong, near Masjid Tanah, Malacca state in Peninsula Malaysia, Malaysia to Rupat Island and Dumai in Sumatra island, Indonesia. The project has been submitted for government approval, and is expected to take 10 years to complete. Once completed, the 48-kilometre-long (30 mi) bridge will be the longest sea-crossing bridge in the world. The project will have two cable-stayed bridges and one suspension bridge, both the longest in the world.

Chola invasion of Srivijaya

In 1025, Rajendra Chola I, the Chola king from Tamil Nadu in South India, launched naval raids on the city-state of Srivijaya in maritime Southeast Asia, and conquered Kadaram from Srivijaya and occupied it for some time. Rajendra's overseas expedition against Srivijaya was a unique event in India's history and its otherwise peaceful relations with the states of Southeast Asia. Several places in Malaysia and Indonesia were invaded by Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty. The Chola invasion furthered the expansion of Tamil merchant associations such as the Manigramam, Ayyavole and Ainnurruvar into Southeast Asia. The Chola invasion led to the fall of the Sailendra Dynasty of Srivijaya and the Chola invasion also coincides with return voyage of the great Buddhist scholar Atiśa from Sumatra to India and Tibet in 1025. The expedition of Rajendra Chola I is mentioned in the corrupted form as Raja Chulan in the medieval Malay chronicle Sejarah Melaya, and Malay princes have names ending with Cholan or Chulan, such as Raja Chulan of Perak.

Port of Penang Port in Penang, Malaysia

The Port of Penang is a deepwater seaport within the Malaysian state of Penang. It consists of terminals along the Penang Strait, including five on the mainland and one in George Town. The Port of Penang was the third busiest harbour in Malaysia in terms of cargo as of 2017, handling 1.52 million TEUs of cargo, as well as the busiest port-of-call within the country for cruise shipping.


  1. Malaccamax
    As the name suggests, Malaccamax ships are the largest ships that can pass through the Strait off Malacca which is 25 m (82 ft) deep. As per the current permissible limits, a Malaccamax vessel can have a maximum length of 400 m (1,312ft), beam of 59 m (193.5 ft), and draught of 14.5 m (47.5 ft). Comparison of Tanker sizes
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Further reading