Malaysia's mysterious ship city causes concern

Hundreds of ships mysteriously left idle off the Malaysian coast during the economic downturn are posing environmental and safety hazards, port authorities and fishermen say.

The ships are lying off the southeastern tip of southern Johor state which faces onto Singapore, positioned outside port limits to avoid charges and official scrutiny.

Some authorities said they believed the ships were waiting out the export slump that has deprived them of cargo, while others said they were being used to conduct illegal oil transfers.

"These vessels are not supposed to anchor there. This activity is considered illegal," Johor Port Authority assistant general manager Damon Nori Masood told AFP.

"All of these ships are off port limits, and some are just one metre away from the boundary line, making us unable to take action," he said, adding that the vessels are all believed to be foreign owned or flagged.

Damon Nori said the ships are anchored in a narrow strait known as the "traffic separation scheme" (TSS) - designed as a free passage area to allow authorities to control the movement of vessels in and out of the port.

The huge flotilla is illuminated at night, presenting the illusion of a floating city off the coast. Malaysian newspaper reports have said there are several hundred vessels now gathered there.

Fishermen from coastal villages have complained about seeping pollution which is threatening their livelihood, and Damon Nori said the idle ships pose a safety hazard for vessels attempting to enter the port.

"These ships are blocking the way of the vessels coming to our anchorage, because they need a bigger space when they turn into the anchorage but the TSS is just full of vessels, big or small," he said.

"This anchoring is very much disturbing the passage. The enforcement agency should clear up the area, as there are also concerns over oil spills causing environment issues," he added.

Azlan Mohamad, a fisherman in the area for the past two decades, said that some 300 to 400 ships were parked in the area, causing harm to the industry with oil spills and illegal cleaning of their tanks.

"The ships sit in our fishing area and make our fishing difficult. The ships also dump sludge at night to avoid detection," he told AFP.

"When we ask the ship not to throw anchor, they ignore us and often tell us to fish elsewhere. They are very arrogant," the 43-year-old told AFP.

"The anchored vessels have affected the income of some 3,000 fishermen. Our daily catch has fallen and the oil spills have made our lives more difficult as they damage our nets."

Port authorities declined to identify which agency they believe is responsible for dispersing the ships, and various maritime authorities contacted by AFP passed the buck or said they were unaware of the problem.

The New Straits Times this week quoted Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) officials as saying that eight tankers had been seized in recent days for offences including illegal tank cleaning.

"Some of the dilapidated ships that were left there for quite some time may have been used to cover the illegal oil transfer activities," MMEA's southern region head Che Hassan Jusoh reportedly said.

"Oil transfers or bunkering, where one ship transfers its cargo of oil to another while at sea, can only be done once these vessels have a domestic merchant shipping license for such activities," a Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency official told AFP.

The process is licensed because of the marine pollution that can occur if it is not done correctly and the transfers must take place in specially gazetted areas because of the danger of fire.

But senior marine police officials say they are mostly hamstrung by ambiguous laws and that there is "no black and white" legislation empowering them to clamp down.

However, an official from the marine department in the transport ministry disagreed.

"The law does not directly say anchoring (is illegal) but it falls under 'any other activities' in the section. Everybody in the maritime agencies knows this is illegal," said Fuad Naemoon.

Under the law, the owner, master or agent of an errant ship can be punished by up to two years in jail and a fine, according to Fuad, who heads the port and seafarer division in the southern region office that oversees Johor.

"The enforcement units should be pro-active," he said, pointing a finger at the marine police and MMEA.

"This has happened for almost two years and the number of ships there is increasing since the economic crisis. The government is suffering losses if these ships continue not to report (their presence) and are not paying dues."

He said the illegal anchoring has also caused submarine cable failures, which have resulted in disruption to telecommunication services for countries including Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey fans rejoice, series five returns later this month
TV
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor