PROPOSALS put forward to dissuade Malaysia from imposing a levy on vessels using the Malacca Straits may be insufficient, warns a researcher at the East-West Centre in Honolulu. Specialist in marine policy and international relations Mark Valencia said the proposal that Japan set up three quick-response bases to clean up oil spills and also pay part of the US$200 million cost for a radar surveillance system to help enforce regulations against sub-standard ships appeared to be a realistic solution. ''But future accidents are inevitable and these steps may not be enough,'' Mr Valencia said. ''With growing world environmental consciousness, nations may sooner or later consider it their right - indeed, their responsibility - to protect their living marine resources and the health of their people from foreign-generated pollution.'' The increasing frequency of oil tanker accidents in the heavily used Malacca Straits had triggered vigorous international debate over what action to take, he said. The straits and the Singapore Straits to the east connect the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea, serving as the funnel point for tanker traffic carrying Middle East oil around Southeast Asia up to Japan. About 70 per cent of Japan's oil travels from the Middle East through this area, which has average daily traffic of about 2,000 ships. ''The Malacca Straits have been the site of some 10 accidents in the past two years, with the latest mishap, in January this year, prompting calls for action from the coastal states of Malaysia and Indonesia,'' Mr Valencia said. In the January accident, Dutch supertanker Maersk Navigator collided with the Japanese tanker Sanko Honour at the northern entrance to the straits, spilling 36 million litres of oil and threatening some of Malaysia's prime tourist beaches. In incidents last year, the US Navy destroyer Ingersoll collided with a Singapore merchant ship in the strait in June. In July, two supertankers collided. In August, an ocean-going Taiwan trawler hit the Singapore-based Royal Pacific cruise ship, sinking the liner and killing nine. In September, the Liberian-registered, Canadian-owned tanker Nagasaki Spirit collided with the Panamanian-registered container vessel Ocean Blessing. All but two of the 45 aboard both ships died and about 13,000 tonnes of oil spilled into the sea. Both Malaysia and Indonesia initially pushed for a toll to be levied on ships using the straits, with the money to be used to fund surveillance and pollution control. However, strong opposition from ship owners, the Japanese government and other straits users prompted reconsideration. ''The legality of imposing levies is doubtful because there is confusion over which law of the sea applies,'' Mr Valencia said. ''But regardless of the international legal arguments for and against free use of the straits, the issue is fundamentally political.'' Japan is one of Malaysia's biggest investors and provided considerable aid grants and loans of about $12 million in 1992. The potential loss or reduction of this largesse probably constitutes sufficient leverage to prevent Malaysia from imposing a levy, Mr Valencia said.