Kota Kinabalu to be located in Kuching

With the presence of fast patrol craft, our fishermen should feel more secure now.

DON’T worry – the relocation of Sabah’s capital is not going to happen (except in the West Malaysian press, and they’ve never been able to distinguish Sabah from Sarawak). Kota Kinabalu is the name of a new patrol craft bought by the government for use by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA). This kind of fast boat is considered good for the purpose of detecting the presence of foreign vessels fishing in our territorial waters. A third vessel is being built; hopefully, she will be christened KM Kuching. No ship of the MME has been named after the capital of Sarawak, correct? She may be based in Kota Kinabalu, that’s all right.

Two of these ships were handed over early this week to the Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin, who received them on behalf of the government of Malaysia.

The KM Kota Kinabalu will be based in Kuching. I can’t wait to see her even from a distance. The other vessel called KM Tok Bali will be located at Tok Bali, in Kelantan. Both ships belong to the class known as New Generation Patrol Craft (NGPC). Each craft has suitable features necessary for effective surveillance work as well as some weapon ready for action, if necessary, in a hostile situation. Hopefully, the Made-in-Turkey canon will not be fired in anger. The long range surveillance camera and the drone will be useful for detecting and identifying foreign intruders and, for good measure, controlling oil spills. The communications system is of the latest model. Sounds great.

Fast surveillance ships are crucial maritime assets for the security of any maritime country. Since the formation of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, Sarawak has been waiting for craft that could satisfactorily scour or patrol our vast territorial waters right up to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Malaysian waters bordering the waters of the Natuna Islands (Indonesia) are very rich fishing grounds. Sadly, for years we have not been able to exploit fully the marine resources found within our own territory for our own benefit. Instead, we have ‘allowed’, by default, foreign trawler fishermen to catch our fish away for sale elsewhere. Sometimes our fishermen buy fish from foreign trawlers. Yes, we buy our own fish, frozen stiff at the price that many ordinary housewives cannot afford. What an irony!

For years we have been waiting to acquire more of such fast surveillance craft to deter encroachment by boats carrying refugees (Vietnamese, Rohingyas) and for arresting and chasing off kidnappers-for-ransom, better described as pirates, in the Sulu Sea. We cannot keep on making excuses for not being able to buy fast craft to look after our own territorial waters when we have been spending a lot of scarce money on mega-prestige projects on land. We must protect our own fishermen. Citing lack of funds for the purchase or manufacture of suitable vessels for the purpose is a very lame excuse!

Time to exploit the marine resources

Now that our fishermen can feel a bit more secure with the constant surveillance by our maritime agency supplied with effective assets and equipment, it’s high time we embark on big scale exploitation of our marine resources. Time to think of selling our fish to other countries, and keeping seafood prices in our own state at an affordable level.

Luring the Dayaks to deep sea fishing  

Subject to correction, one seldom hears about Sarawakians working as fishermen in the deep sea fishing industry. I have heard about several individuals owning boats licensed to carry out deep sea fishing, crewed by  foreigners. I am told that the locals are not keen to work on the fishing boats operating in high seas. I have come across a few Bidayuhs who work for trawlers but have not met or known of any Iban men working on a deep sea fishing trawler. Calling themselves Sea Dayaks!

It’s time for the youngsters to think of this new field. It is a challenge to shift to another culture but the day will come – the day is practically here! – when the young Sarawakians have to think outside the box. The young Iban are fond of working on the oil derricks but one day it is possible that there will be less and less oil to exploit economically.

Deep sea fishing policy revisited 

It’s high time that the federal and Sarawak governments took another look at the deep sea fishing policy in Sarawak’s waters. Millions of ringgit have been dished out in the form of loans and subsidies to help individual fishermen and fishing firms to catch more fish for the local markets, for canning or for export. Jetties and cold rooms have been built on shores. Individuals and firms were given operating licenses to operate fishing boats in deep sea so as not to compete with the traditional fishermen using with traditional gear near the shore. No news about their success or failures. Money thrown overboard?

In terms of boat naming, I am serious in suggesting to the relevant authorities that the next fast patrol boat now being built should be named Kuching.

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