Stop Passing the Buck; Enforce the Laws to Prevent Tragedies - MATTA

The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) wish to convey its condolences to the victims of the capsized catamaran and their families.

At the same time, MATTA hopes that the focus should be on search and rescue until the last victim is found. Many comments regarding the tragedy had already been made, but MATTA’s focus is on action to be taken to prevent tour boat tragedies, such as regulations and operations to be clearly displayed and monitored, with enforcement carried out around the clock.

The Marine Department of Malaysia is the main agency supervising boat activities. It is imperative that it exercises its wide powers to prevent boat tragedies in the seas surrounding our country, particularly in Sabah where sea excursions to idyllic islands are one of the main tourist attractions.

Tour boats should only be licensed when fitted with safety, emergency and communication equipment, and tested for stability and structural integrity. It can conduct sweeps on illegal jetties, apart from ensuring all ports and jetties under its supervision are safe and operational at all times.

Ensuring that our Maritime Zone is safe and peaceful to maritime communities and minimizing loss of lives and properties at sea based on a set standard are the responsibilities of the Department. The consequence for any lapse of fiduciary duty is dire, as the recent incident had shown”.

Some of the 20 China tourists who were rescued off Labuan on Sunday afternoon, arrived on a trawler at the Marine Police jetty in Kota Kinabalu early Monday morning.

The Marine Department of Malaysia and the Ports and Harbour Department Sabah should adopt the best practices for the interest of all. For example, there should only be a few main jetties on the mainland where tour boats are allowed to pick up and drop off passengers.

Apart from monitoring the boats’ condition and facilities, inspection of skipper and crew licenses and competency, they should only be permitted to leave when the number of people matches with the passenger manifest.

The tragedy occurred because the catamaran left at an unauthorised jetty unsupervised. Lack of political will allow demolished structures to be quickly rebuilt and this will continue if the culprits are not charged in court.

If no action is taken against unauthorised jetty operators, many illicit activities will continue, such as trafficking and unauthorised sea excursions.

On the issue of the highly controversial Tanjung Aru village jetty used by tour boat operators, Kota Kinabalu City Hall, Ports and Harbour Department Sabah and Marine Department Malaysia are the agencies that have overlapping jurisdictions over the matter.

Tourists are still using unsanctioned jetties for excursions to the islands off Kota Kinabalu despite Saturday’s boating tragedy as tour agencies deliver them there. Where is the enforcement? – This BorneoToday photo was taken on January 31, 2017 in Tanjung Aru

They should resolve it immediately and stop passing the buck.

On land, tour operators can only use licensed tour vehicles and have dealings with other licensed business operators. Likewise, they should only organise departures via sanctioned jetties and ensure boat operators comply with licensing conditions.

Taking precautions and exercising the highest level of safety is of utmost importance to tour operators.

This will ensure the popularity and sustainability of sea excursions to the many renowned islands and marine parks in Sabah. Cutting corners to reduce costs are the ploy of illegal or unethical operators.

They should be stamped out with better surveillance and stricter enforcement by all government agencies, particularly the Marine Department of Malaysia with collaboration with the Ports and Harbour Department Sabah and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency”.

MATTA is prepared to work with all government agencies and private sector bodies to create an ecosystem to prioritise safety in all areas and get rid of apathy that allows tragedies to strike.

We should learn from the latest incident and resolve to create a safe haven for both tourists and locals in Sabah.

Datuk Tan Kok Liang is vice president, Inbound, MATTA