Malaysia: Syndicate uses ‘mother ship’ and disguised fishing boats to slip through dragnet

MOHD FARHAAN SHAH The Star 5 Aug 17;

KOTA TINGGI: The syndicate behind the frequent encroachment into local waters by Vietnamese fishermen has managed to stay one step ahead of enforcement agencies, avoiding detection and arrest.

It is believed there are hundreds of fishing vessels illegally entering Malaysian waters from Tok Bali in Kelantan to Desaru in Johor.

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Tanjung Sedili district maritime director Kapt Amran Daud said the unusual thing about this syndicate was their use of a “mother ship”.

The Star reported yesterday that these “sea raiders” encroached into the waters off Sedili, primarily targeting sea cucumbers, which fetch them a good sum in the China market. Even locally, sea cucumbers fetch more than RM1,000 a kilo.

They use pukat harimau (trawler nets), which scoop up huge amounts of an area’s fish stock and cause massive ecological damage, especially to the sea bed and corals.

Kapt Amran said it would take at least two months for boats to travel from Vietnam to Johor, where the “mother ship” plays a vital role.

“It supplies these boats with diesel and food as well as clean water. It also stores their catch,” he added.

The MMEA did not rule out the possibility that locals could be part of the syndicate, as they seem to know Malaysian waters well.

Kapt Amran said the Vietnamese used what looked like local boats, with fake registration numbers.

“They also fly the Malaysian flag to fool local enforcement agencies,” he added.

He said that in the past two-and-a-half years, MMEA Tanjung Sedili detained 144 Vietnamese fishermen for encroaching into Malaysian waters and illegal fishing activities.

He said that between 2015 and April, his team detained 11 Vietnamese fishing boats, adding that there could be hundreds of other boats in local waters.

“One vessel can catch at least 30 tonnes of our marine resources, and will normally move in a group of five to 12 boats and scatter once detected,”he said.

MMEA and other agencies such as the navy, marine police and Fisheries Department are working to thwart the syndicate.

Kapt Amran said the agency was also using locals fishermen as informants to track down the Vietnamese trawlers, including the “mother ship”.

Illicit fishermen damage local economy and ecology
The Star 5 Aug 17;

JOHOR BARU: Vietnamese trawlers in eastern Johor waters have had an adverse impact on the marine ecosystem and livelihood of local fishermen in Sedili.

Sedili Fishermen’s Association chairman Abd Majid Abd Rahman said fish from Sedili used to be very cheap, with people coming all the way from Pahang to buy directly from the fishermen.

“People are now calling fish from Sedili ikan emas (golden fish) because it is expensive and there is hardly any fish in the area,” he said.

The price of fish had risen by 50% on average, with some types going up by even more.

For example, fishermen said, ikan kembung (mackerel) used to cost about RM6 per kg but now cost RM10 to RM12.

“The Vietnamese take everything and leave nothing for the locals. If this continues, we will have to find other means to survive.”

Local fishermen said their catch had shrunk by almost 50% since the foreign fishing vessels arrived.

They said the situation was now worsening with the monsoon as locals do not go out to sea but the Vietnamese, whose vessels are larger, were undeterred by the weather.

In addition, the illegal fishing vessels also posed a danger to people and property.

Mohd Yusof Abdullah, 61, said he lost thousands of ringgit after his fish traps were damaged by the Vietnamese.

Another fisherman, Azrin Othman, 25, said the Vietnamese fishermen did not think twice about putting local fishermen in danger.

“Once, they even dragged a local fisherman’s boat when it was caught in their net,” he said.

Another fisherman, Ali, 62, said he once saw the “mother ship” – used by the smaller fishing vessels as a supply and storage centre – at sea not far from Sedili jetty.

“It was about a month ago. I was on my way back after a fishing trip late one evening when I saw bright lights nearby.

“I saw many Vietnamese boats hovering around a big vessel that looked like a floating city,” he said.