MMEA denies 'missing in action'
Published on: Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Kota Kinabalu: The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) has brushed aside allegations that personnel manning patrol boats skipped work because of the long holidays when the Jan 28 catamaran capsized near Pulau Mengalum. Kota Kinabalu Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency Chief First Admiral Adam Aziz (pic) said on Tuesday such allegations were unfounded.

"Maritime assets are on operation 24 hours a day, including during holidays and all operation schedules are under the supervision of the District Maritime Director and the Regional Maritime Director.

"Thus the allegations that personnel are playing truant because of the long holidays are unfounded," he said in a response to a letter sent to the Daily Express forum published on Feb 5 titled "Why arrest poor crew but not bosses?"

Adam Aziz said claims by the author that Indonesian fishermen rescued the victims of the ill-fated catamaran were also not true because the boat concerned is a local boat registered with the enforcement in Sabah.

He said prior to the completion of the search and rescue operation, the Sabah and Labuan Maritime Region has recorded the data of all fishermen involved in the operation for appreciation awards and 'friends of maritime record.

"From the legal point of view, the Maritime has also charged the boat owner involved for further action according to the Sabah Ports and Harbour Enactment 2002," he said.

He said among the offences were overloading of passengers, operating in an ungazetted jetty and not listing the name of the skipper in the boat licence.

"The Sabah and Labuan Maritime Region has also set up a disciplinary committee to investigate the validity of the allegations and stern action would be taken against those violating the rules of service," he added.

Meanwhile, the extended search for the five people still missing at sea following the catamaran capsize near Pulau Mengalum is taking a toll on the personnel involved in the effort.

But counselling is being given to help them manage the stress, thanks to a National Blue Ocean Strategy collaboration between the Health Ministry and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

Debriefing was given by a team of counsellors from the Health Ministry, State Health Department and the Home Ministry led by the Health Ministry's Psychology Unit Head Hairol Kamal Abdul Rahman.

The team which included State Health Department Psychology Officer Hairuni Kasuagi who led the team from Sabah started giving counselling to personnel on board KM Banggi on Tuesday.

"These personnel have been out at sea and away from their family since day one, thus the purpose of counselling is helping them to manage stress," said Adam Aziz.

Counselling was given to some 300 personnel involved in the on-going operation which entered its 11th day on Tuesday covering a total of 26, 065 nautical miles since Jan 29.

Hairol said the focus was to screen personnel who need emotional help and refer them to the nearest hospital if needed.

"Search and rescue operations will involve a lot of pressure not only on the personnel involved, but also their family members who also need help.

"They will usually have to deal with emotional stress especially during field work, thus we need to manage emotional factors which if left unattended would lead to illness related to mental health," he said.

He said the counselling and stress management would also help speed up search and rescue as well as boost motivation.

The search on Tuesday covered 1,375 nautical miles in the Semarang waters off Sabah, Brunei and Miri with more focus on the waters between Pulau Mengalum and Pulau Tiga where the body and three life jackets were found earlier.

A total of 10 boats and vessels, as well as two aircraft were mobilised with help from fishermen who continue to render assistance in search for the five people still missing.

Adam Aziz also urged all maritime community plying the seas to contact the Malaysian Emergency Response Service at 999 should they come across anything which might be of help to the operation while at sea.

"There are between 8,000 and 10,000 people plying the waters in the West Coast and we need their help to channel information to us by calling the MERS 999 or radio us with their boat communication system," he said.

He said in a collaborated meeting with the Tourism Ministry last year, MMEA has encouraged them to make it compulsory for all tourists boats to install the Automated Identification System.

"Not only tourist boats, but also big fishing boats are encouraged to have the AIS system," he said.

Meanwhile, MMEA officials on Tuesday released the names of the seven survivors and the ashes of one of the deceased, who have left for China to date.

He Hai Min, 23, left Sabah for Guangzhou on a 4am China Southern Airlines flight on Feb 6 together with her husband's ashes, He Run Yuan, 46. He Run Yuan was among the earlier three who were found dead.

Also on the same flight were Guo Shun Ke, 48 (woman), He Zi Hau, 20 (man) and Chen Yin Jian, 22 (man).

Three others left for Sabah for China on a 1.30am China Eastern Airlines flight on Tuesday, namely Yang Si Yie, 16 (woman), Fan Li Xia, 40 (woman) and Shen Hao Tian, 17 (man).

They were among 28 China tourists and three crew who left the Tanjung Aru jetty here for Pulau Mengalum about two hours' boat ride northwest of Kota Kinabalu at about 9am on Jan 28.

Their failure to arrive prompted a search and rescue operation with 20 of the passengers and two crew members rescued by fishermen from waters near Labuan on Jan 29. Three others were found dead.

Six people, five of whom are China tourists, were initially reported missing, until Feb 4 when the decomposed body of a woman which was two days later identified as Jianyi Yang, 38, was found by local fishermen some 13 nautical miles off Pulau Mengalum.

This brought the figure to a total of five people, four of whom are China tourists, who remained missing at press time. - Sherell Ann Jeffrey


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