Government mulls making shipwreck sites off limits

BRIEFING SESSION: Abang Johari fielding questions from reporters.

THE state government is studying the possibility of making the marine areas surrounding at least one of the historical Japanese shipwrecks off the coast of Santubong off limits to fishing trawlers to protect their historical and tourism value.

“There was an expedition undertaken by divers supervised by Tourism Malaysia as well as our ministry, and it’s true, that that wreck has (tourism) potential. I got the report of that particular wreck and there were some artefacts that have been spoilt,” Minister of Tourism Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said when met by reporters at the State Legislative Assembly yesterday afternoon.

“There is possibility there was trawling done at this particular site. We will refer to marine as well as river board to find out whether we can prevent trawlers from coming into the area to avoid any incidences at the wreck.”

He added that before they could propose to add or amend any laws, they have to consult with maritime authorities, relevant agencies and other experts to look into the situation and suggest recommendations for further courses of action.

“If they breach the legislation that governs that area, because it is a part of our wetland park, we will prosecute. But we must have strong evidence,” he said, when asked what actions the government would take to recover artefacts removed from the shipwrecks.

In September, The Borneo Post highlighted the pilfering of artefacts from Japanese WWII shipwrecks, putting local dive sites at grave risk of losing their historical, cultural and tourism significance.

There are so far, three shipwrecks which have been identified – the Hiyoshi Maru, Katori Maru and destroyer Sagiri – that were actively used during the Japanese invasion of Borneo, and subsequently sunk by Dutch submarines as they were heading to Kuching.

War artefacts such as artillery shells and cannons can still be found at the sites although others, including anchors and sake (Japanese wine) bottles have been taken away by unscrupulous divers and hunters.

Over time, the wrecks have also become a refuge and magnet for marine life as they are transformed into living reefs.

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