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.

Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
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
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

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect