By THE BORNEOTODAY TEAM
KOTA KINABALU: Flout the laws and you pay the price.
That was the stern message issued by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) that for the past week has carried out an operation codenamed ‘Ops Mengalum’.
This is aimed at ensuring operators of tour boats complied with the stipulated regulations for the safety of tourists, Sabah and Labuan MMEA director First Admiral Mohd Zubil Mat Som.
And the MMEA detained 19 tour boats for violating various regulations under the Sabah Ports and Harbours Department (JPDS) Enactment during the operation which entered its seventh day Friday.
Several tour boat operators have apparently not learnt from the January 28 catamaran tragedy which saw four tourists drown and five still missing, and are continuing to be lackadaisical on safety.
Zubil said MMEA found some of the boat operators still not putting priority to safety including serviceable or insufficient lifejackets and poor boat conditions.
Some 115 passenger boats ferrying some 657 passengers mostly tourists from South Korea, China and Germany to various locations off the city for a week from Feb 18 were checked.
He said they made 19 arrests for various offences mainly on safety aspects under the Sabah Marine and Ports Department Enactment and they were compounded with fines totalling RM7,900 during the operations.
Another eight cases involved crew members who were found without proper documents and were referred to the Immigration Department.
“It is very sad that just after the tragedy, some of our boat operators are still not giving priority to safety,” he told reporters at the end of the operations.
“We found some boats that not in good condition and were still being used for ferrying passengers,” he said, adding that lifejackets that were spoiled was still being used just to meet their licence requirements.
Zubil also said that some boat operators were still practising carrying more passengers then permitted and also landing at illegal jetties.
Others were detained for in waters off Kota Kinabalu for among others, overloading and not equipped with life jackets, and some for disembarking passengers at ungazzetted areas and there are also those operating with expired licence.
According to Zubil the operation involved 106 officers and members of the MMEA, was aimed at ensuring operators of tour boats complied with the stipulated regulations for the safety of tourists.
On the Automatic Identification System (AIS) all boats operating in waters off Kota Kinabalu did not have it installed, with Zubil stressing the AIS or at least the communication equipment (VHF radio) is very important.
In the tragedy on Jan 28, a catamaran carrying 28 Chinese tourists and three crew members, capsized due to strong winds and high waves while on its way to Pulau Mengalum.
So far, 26 victims have been recovered, including four dead.