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Vessel had history of problems
Published on: Saturday, February 04, 2017

Kota Kinabalu: The ill-fated catamaran that was used to carry 31 people, including 28 China tourists, to Pulau Mengalum last Saturday had a history of problems, Daily Express can reveal.

Three China tourists died while 22 more China tourists were rescued with six (five of them China tourists) are still unaccounted for in the tragedy that has seen fingers pointing at greed and lax enforcement.

It has emerged that the catamaran first belonged to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and was designed and built for a research project in Semporna.

The organisation's former project officer Daniel Doughty (pic) posted in his Facebook page about the history of the catamaran which he named "kahumbu", in the Semporna Bajau language.

He wrote being the person who oversaw its design and built in 2007-2008 and got it licensed.

After leaving the WWF in 2010, he said a former colleague had told him that the catamaran had been damaged and forced to beach land as it almost sank somewhere near Pom Pom Island.

"I recall she had some damage and crack at the back of the right hull. I guess they got it patched up," he wrote, while calling the catamaran his "baby".

Sad as everyone else by the tragedy, Doughty insisted that "no way the boat was designed to fit 30 people" but only for research.

"It was registered and designed for use at Semporna waters, not the waves at Mengalum (Island).

To convert the boat as passenger boat with 30 pax and ply it to Mengalum to me is suicide."

When contacted by Daily Express over the posting, Doughty said he had no knowledge about the catamaran's history of problems after leaving WWF but was not surprised that it did.


He said whenever a boat has had issues it is best that it undergo a stability assessment where it would be thoroughly studied by a qualified naval architect and subsequently certified seaworthy by the Ports and Harbour Department.

"Under this tedious process there is a long list of compliance that must be met by a boat owner before certification get issued.

"What more when a boat owner intends to carry more than 12 passengers out to the open sea.

Under this assessment, the naval architect will study and determine everything from how far the boat is safe to travel and how many passengers it can carry.

The list is long," said Doughty, who is now the Vice President of Young Professionals in Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.

The assessment would also involve a study of the design drawings, a practical inclining test at small angles of heel, computer simulations of the vessel undergoing large angles of heel up to 90 or 180 degrees, plus careful consideration of the loading conditions of the vessel in service.

In some cases the work would also involve an assessment of the damage survival characteristics of the craft to ensure that an appropriate level of safety is maintained when any of the watertight compartments are flooded as a result of hull damage.

A professional diver also told Daily Express on condition of anonymity that he saw the catamaran being towed after water had leaked into its hull while carrying passengers to Pulau Sapi sometime last year.

"Fortunately it managed to reach shore on time before the situation got any worse.

"I was diving in the area when I saw the catamaran being towed back to Jesselton Point.


I learned later that water had been leaking into the hull," he said.

Passengers of the catamaran, he said, were safely dropped off on the island and had to be picked up by another boat sent by their handling tour agent.

In fact, he said, the catamaran experienced such problem not once but twice, the second time also last year.

When asked and shown a picture, he confirmed it was the same catamaran that capsized after setting off from Tanjung Aru at 9am last Saturday on its 56km journey to Pulau Mengalum.

"I know it's the same one because as a diver I recognise it. Many boat operators at Jesselton Point also know about its history of problems," he said.

The paper then spoke to some boat operators at Jesselton Poin who also supported the diver's claim.

"I heard it had been having problems," said a ticket booth attendant.

It was even rumoured that the catamaran once sank in the waters of Kg Pondo, Pulau Gaya.

However, when Daily Express went there and asked some of the villagers they said they were not aware.

On Wednesday, an officer linked to the ongoing investigation into the boat tragedy that so far had claimed three lives reportedly alleged that the catamaran had not been in good condition and that this why its permit to berth at Jesselton Point was rejected.


This may explain why the operators then decided to leave for Pulau Mengalum from one of the two illegal jetties in Tg Aru, instead.

Both jetties have since been disabled by City Hall – also only after a Daily Express expose that China tourists were still leaving for the islands off the State Capital from there despite being declared illegal by the authorities – on the grounds that they were meant for local fishermen and villagers but not for tourism purposes.

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