Wednesday, March 22

RM200,000 sugar smuggling bust


Agency also seizes cooking oil, detains 37 illegals in Philippines-bound vessel

SANDAKAN: The seizure yesterday of about RM200,000 worth of sugar from a Philippines-bound vessel has shed some light on the causes of the shortage of the government-subsidised commodity reported around Sabah lately.

SMUGGLED SUGAR: The large quantity of sugar and cooking oil found in the vessel.

SMUGGLED SUGAR: The large quantity of sugar and cooking oil found in the vessel.

The Philippines-registered vessel, named ML Menham, which was also ferrying 37 illegal immigrants and believed to be heading for the southern Philippine island of Jolo, was intercepted by the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) patrol vessel, KDR MARITIM,  off Berhala Island at about 1.30pm.

According to MMEA chief here, Captain Mohamad Onn Bin Khalil, the seized vessel’s nine-member crew was headed by Neckson Mercado, who is a veteran in barter trade and who knows the waters off Sandakan very well.

He said the MMEA patrol team headed by director of operation V Pannir Selvan A/L Veloo confiscated 3,500 bags of sugar and 435 cartons of cooking oil, and detained the immigrants along with the vessel.

He said the experienced foreign navigator was at last outmanouvered by a young MMEA commanding officer in the dangerous ‘cat-and-mouse game’ in the Sandakan waters.

“The seized vessel is now being closely scrutinized by domestic trade officers who were surprised by the enormous quantity of sugar and cooking oil found in the vessel at a time when the whole nation is facing a shortage of sugar,” said Mohamad Onn.

He said the sugar was believed to be supplied by a local company based on the customs declaration forms which were however yet to be verified by the domestic trade officers.

He said the immigrants who did not possess any valid documents have been handed over to the immigration authorities.

Some of the immigrants who were interviewed said they paid 1,000 pesos for the trip to the Philippines.

They said some of them visited their relatives in Sabah while others came to work before travelling back to their home country.

Meanwhile, Mohamad Onn said MMEA will discuss with all the relevant departments and agencies responsible for regulating barter trade in order to curb smuggling of sugar and other subsidised items, as well as illegal immigrants who might pose a serious security threat to Sabah.