MANILA: The Philippines has proposed an information-sharing system for Southeast Asia to help protect its waters from security challenges such as piracy, illegal fishing and drug trafficking.

The proposal was tabled on Wednesday at the start of a three-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) maritime forum attended by deputy foreign ministers and senior foreign ministry officials in Manila.

The objective is to “provide timely, relevant and material information to appropriate action agencies to enable them to combat non-traditional security threats at sea”, the proposal said.

These threats include drug trafficking, gun smuggling, human trafficking, illegal fishing and weather disturbances, according to the proposal a diplomat gave to reporters.

The Philippines noted more than half of the world’s annual merchant tonnage passed through Southeast Asia’s waters, making cooperation vital.

No details were given as to how the information would be shared.

The proposal did not mention territorial disputes involving some ASEAN countries that experts say threaten regional stability.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

China is embroiled in territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam and some other Southeast Asian nations over the South China Sea.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast amounts of oil and gas, is a rich fishing ground and is home to shipping lanes vital to global trade.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the sea.

A senior diplomat who was at the talks Wednesday said the discussions had not touched on the disputes, focusing rather on maritime cooperation efforts.

He said Indonesia also tabled a similar information-sharing proposal, though there was no immediate indication as to how the ASEAN countries reacted to the concept.

– AFP/cc