KOTA KINABALU: A probe will be carried out to determine whether a breach of law was committed in the salvaging works of World War II Japanese shipwrecks by Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), which were later found to be largely missing and destroyed.
Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said the relevant government department will decide whether a violation occurred under the Antiquities and Treasure Trove Enactment 1977.
“I am sure (the relevant department is) smart enough to know if it had breached the conditions (of their research) and whether that breach warrants a prosecution.
“But at the same time, as far as the Sabah Museum Department is concerned, its jurisdiction was within three nautical miles (from the shore) and the wrecks were outside three nautical miles,” he told reporters.
Masidi was responding to a question on whether action would be taken against the local private company, Ugeens Berjaya Enterprise, as it had violated the exploration permit issued by the Sabah Museum Department.
The company funded the UMS research and hired a China-registered vessel to conduct salvage work for the varsity.
On Jan 25, Masidi ordered UMS to stop its research work following concerns raised by fishing and diving communities.
This was followed by a statement issued by UMS vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Harun Abdullah, claiming that the varsity had identified a sunken cargo vessel containing 3,000 tonnes of what could be toxic waste.
At a special briefing with stakeholders last week, UMS admitted that the claim was based on assumption and historical records indicating that the vessels had been carrying bauxite and explosive materials during the time of their sinking.
However, in application and support letters submitted by Ugeens and UMS to the relevant agencies, neither party specified their research focus and only mentioned that salvage works were to be carried out for the purpose of research documentation.
“The thing I don’t understand, I must say, is that (the research) was supposed to be for documentation of content. I would have thought that in the beginning, they would dive and document from there, but what happened was that they lifted and destroyed the artefacts (shipwrecks).
“The (3,000 tonnes of toxic material is not mentioned) in the letter… what does (archaeology have to) do with toxic materials? The best lesson here is to make sure you are fully awake when you give support letters and to know what you are writing,” he stressed.
In a briefing last week, Masidi said no conclusion on the research was made and the reason for the salvaging work itself remains a mystery.
He added that a committee, led by the Ministry’s permanent secretary Datu Rosmadi Datu Sulai, will discuss and wrap up the issue within a month; while another meeting will be held with the Chemistry Department.