Malaysia: Divers grateful gov't stepped in to suspend underwater exploration

OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 26 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: The scuba diving community has expressed their gratitude to the government for its swift action in calling for Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) to suspend its underwater exploration in Usukan waters off Kota Belud.

Sabah Tourism, Culture, and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun had appealed to the varsity to stop its operations following concerns among divers, fishermen and the local community. UMS had agreed to stop the work until proper consultations are being held.

The university also explained that the cargo vessel in two World War 2 shipwreck sites were to be salvaged for research purposes.

Diving ambassador Clement Lee, who is the first two Professional Association Diving Instructors (PADI) directors in Malaysia, said these wrecks are of historical legacies and cannot be replaced once they were salvaged.

“Many people would think the wrecks are just pieces of mangled metals and only good for scrapped irons.

“They are time capsules, our time museum. They tell a lot of stories as we try to unveil history,” said Lee, adding wreck diving also contributed significantly to tourism industry.

Meanwhile, another scuba diver from Kota Belud Monica Chin said she would team up with other scuba divers and operators to work with the ministry to preserve the heritage.

“It is also Scuba Dive year with the ‘End in Sipadan’ campaign, which means we should keep Sabah’s underwater heritage for all the scuba divers around the world.

“The continuous attention and conservation marine protection activities by all divers and operators will help Sabah be the top dive site in Asia.”

Based on a USA shipwreck research centre record, there are 23 shipwrecks in Sabah excluding the latest sinking of a Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) ship vessel KM Kuraman at Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park about three months ago.

Salvage work on WW2 shipwrecks underway, draws ire from Sabah divers, fishermen
AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 25 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A salvage work, carried out in the popular wreck dive site in the Usukan waters off Kota Belud, where four Japanese shipwrecks from the World War 2 are located, has drawn the wrath of divers and local fishermen.

The project is said to be carried out by the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS)‘s archaeological research unit for research purposes.

Photographs of the salvage work have been widely shared on social media, raising concern and anger among divers as well as local fishermen who use the area as their fishing ground.

They expressed fear of a possibility that the wrecks would be taken out from the waters.

A photograph of the approval letter from the Sabah Marine Department, with regards to the salvage work, has been forwarded to New Straits Times. It noted that the approved duration for work is from Jan 6 to April 6.

The letter stated that the department director had approved the work, to be carried out by a China registered vessel. The letter however did not mention any removal of items from the wrecks.

Instead, it stated that approval must be obtained from the department director if there is any action to dispose the wreck or to bring the wreck to another location.

Meanwhile, Sabah Marine Department director Abdul Nasar Abdul Hadi when contacted confirmed that the approval for the salvage work in Usukan areas was given following a discussion between several agencies such as UMS, Sabah Museum, Sabah Parks, and National Security Council.

“The salvage work involves taking materials from the wrecks on to a salvage vessel. The research group will be inspecting the materials and others related to their research study.

“No wreck is allowed to be taken out. The salvage work does not involve removing the entire shipwrecks from the water,” he pointed out.

A UMS lecturer involved in the research project has also confirmed that the varsity will only be taking materials related to their studies.

It is learnt that UMS will be issuing a press statement on the matter today.

Meanwhile, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun expressed surprise by the salvaging activities.

“UMS should have been more consultative with relevant ministry like the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry and even my own Ministry.

“I have received complaints from the diving fraternity and local fishermen. UMS has probably overlooked the economic significance of the wreck site.” he said.

UMS ceases underwater exploration, to consult relevant ministries
AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 25 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: State Tourism, Culture, and Environment Ministry have called on Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) to cease its underwater exploration in Usukan waters off Kota Belud following concerns among divers and fishermen.

Its Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun told New Straits Times today he has appealed to the varsity’s vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Harun Abdullah to suspend its operations until proper consultations with relevant ministries and agencies are held.

He said proper consultations are needed in light of the economic implications such operations might have on the tourism and fishing industry.

“The vice-chancellor has agreed to suspend the operation,” he said, adding that Sabah Parks have denied they have been consulted as the area is not within the marine park.

Earlier, Masidi said UMS should have been more consultative with relevant ministries prior to carrying out underwater salvage project.

In a press release issued by UMS, Mohd Harun announced that the varsity has ceased its salvage operation today.

He explained that the cargo vessel to be salvaged for research purposes contained toxic materials weighing 3,000 tonnes. This has prompted the varsity to conduct research in two World War 2 shipwreck sites in Usukan.

“Chemical study particularly on the iron and steel in the vessels and its surroundings must be carried out to prevent negative impact on the environment and the community whose source of income are from those areas.

“This research is being conducted with the use of a research grant awarded by a local company that has expertise in marine management,” he said.

The vice-chancellor also added that the ship was badly corroded and it was dangerous to use the conventional approach to conduct the archaeological research, which meant that the team had to use the salvage approach to access the ships’ interiors.

Mohd Harun stressed that UMS understands the unease among the local fishermen, adding that the salvage and research project are being carried out to reduce future risks to their livelihoods.

He said the company responsible for carrying out the salvage project has suggested placing an artificial reef at the site as it will be more environmentally friendly and safe.

“We will discuss with the company with regards to the reef which will be placed near the site of the shipwreck as an effort to keep the area safe for fishing,” he said.

Mohd Harun added findings by UMS archaeologist team shows that the site is almost completely destroyed and it is expected to completely vanish in the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, Sabah Marine Department director Abdul Nasar Abdul Hadi said the department has given its approval to Ugeens Berjaya Enterprise to carry out salvage work using a China-registered vessel.

“The approval was given after we have received support letters from relevant agencies such as UMS, Sabah Parks, Sabah Museum and the National Security Council.”

He added the salvage work only involved salvaging materials from the wreck and not removing the entire shipwreck from the waters.

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