requests to salvage wrecks rejected
Published on: Sunday, February 19, 2017

Kota Kinabalu: The Sabah Marine Department had turned down request to salvage shipwrecks off Kudat after consulting relevant agencies. Its director, Abdul Nasar Abdul Hadi said the application came with support letters, signed by "Wakil Rakyat".

Before approving the applications, we refferd to the agencies and found that the the focus area was within the Tun Mustapha Marine Park, off Kudat. We objected, and I did not approve.

"The Marine Department is the receiver of wrecks and we do not approve salvaging wrecks."

Nasar said any removal of new or old shipwrecks in Sabah waters, even if the wrecks had no ownership, was subjected to the law under the purview of related agencies.

Under the Merchant Shipping ordinance (MSO), he said, the department, being the receiver of wrecks, could take possession of unclaimed shipwrecks and, under the provisions of the law, the director could dispose of them.

For a new wreck, the director will issue a 30-day notice for the owner to claim it and if no one comes forward, I can take possession of the wreck.

The department is happy to remove all (wreck) as they can create a hazard to boats unless they have historical or tourism values.

"Clearing shipwrecks does not just fall under the jurisdiction of the Marine Department.

"Other agencies are involved, such as Sabah Parks if it within a protected area, and the Museum Department, if it involves wrecks more than 50 years old," he told News Straits Times.

In the case of three sunken World War 2 Japanese shipwrecks salvaged from Usukan waters last month, Nasar said they had no ownership and were considered abandoned.

According to MSO 1960 of Sabah, Nasr said the "owner", in relation to a vessel, means the person(s) who were the owner of the vessel at the time of the sinking, stranding of abandoning thereof.

"As a receiver wrecks, we have no objection (for the wrecks to be removed) if there are no obejections from the agencies and department."

Realising that the shipwrecks in Usukan were more than 50 years old, he said, the department consulted Sabah Parks and Sabah Museum Department after they received an application from private company to salvage them.

He said the final decision to allow research explorations would fall under the purview of the Museum Department as it was responsible for issuing exploration permits if there were no objections from the Marine Department.

"If an exploration permit is not granted, no one is allowed to enter and conduct exploration, even with approval from the Marine Department."

On the discovery of wrecks and other properties underwater, Nasar said those who found them were obliged to inform the Marine Department. This, he said, included divers.

On Jan 31, a group divers went to Usukan to inspect damage due to salvage works carried out for research by Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).

They discovered that two shipwrecks were missing while another was beyond recognignition.

The salvage-and-research project caused outrage among fisherman and the diving fraternity as they expressed concern that the entire shipwrecks were destroyed and removed.

Naval shipwrecks are granted sovereign immunity under the international law and remained the property of the nations, in this case, Japan.

Under these protections, it would be illegal to destroy Japanese shipwrecks without permission from Tokyo.

However, Tokyo had not officially claimed or identified the Usukan wrecks and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was unaware of the wrecks.

Sabah Fisheries director Ahemad Sade said the sites of the wrecks were fishing grounds used mainly for traditional fishing.

He said the department could conduct a probe into damaged shipwrecks-turned-reefs, provided the wrecks were identified and established as artificial reefs by the department.

A special meeting between the Sabah government, UMS and stakeholders will be held today to get an explanation on the Usukan research project undertaken by the varsity last month.

Following UMS's research on World War 2 Japanese shipwrecks last month, three wrecks- Higane Maru, Hiyori Maru, Korkusei Maru- were destroyed and missing after Sabah Tourism, Culture, and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun ordered the varsity to stop its operation on Jan 25.

The Ministry summoned private company Urgeens Berjaya Enterprise, which funded UMS's research project and commissioned a China-registered vessel to conduct salvaging work for the varsity.


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