Swamps and Maritime Piracy: Environmental Law in the Straits of Malacca

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 8:30 AM
Blue Room Prefunction (Omni Shoreham)
Nurfadzilah Yahaya, National University of Singapore
This paper focuses on land reclamation projects involving the swamp in the Straits of Malacca in Southeast Asia, and highlight the crucial intersection of environmental laws and maritime international law during the early nineteenth century. Scholars have thus far demonstrated that Malay conceptions of political sovereignty clashed with English views. However, differences in cultural conceptions were insufficient to ensure the steady decline of Malay kingship. After all, European merchants in the region who arrived before EIC dominance cultivated relationships with local ruling elites. It was in EIC legal courts that Malay rulers were discredited, as their genealogies were either not recognized or invalidated by new EIC treaties and agreements with other parties. Law was the arena in which kings were declared unlawful and/or piractical. Even so, the EIC courts in the Straits Settlements had limited jurisdictions since they did not have the support of Bengal EIC government till 1826. Neither was there an Admiralty Court before 1836 to try crimes that occurred on the high seas outside of Common Law jurisdiction. Colonial officials were particularly concerned about mangrove swamps in particular because provided good hiding spaces for those adept in sailing in shallow waters. Projects of land reclamation on the maritime perimeter grounded rulers whose main activities were out at sea, rivers or liminal spaces of swamps, rendering them more likely to be tried for various crimes in EIC courts. Linked to piracy but not punished for it, these rulers lost their prestige and base of power simultaneously. 
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