All at sea!


This file photo shows vessels, identified by the Philippine Coast Guard as Chinese maritime militia vessels, over a section off Thitu Island in the South China Sea. — AFP photo

CHINA is trying to assert a claim to ownership of the waters within the nine-dash line. The USA insists on exercising the right of its naval vessels to the passage in the South China Sea.

But the late monsoon wind has blown some good news to Malaysia.

Early this week, the Deputy Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Shamsul Anuar Nasarah, revealed that last year alone, 79 foreign fishing boats and 700 fishermen were detained by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) for encroaching on our sovereign territory.

During one operation lasting from Jan 15 to Feb 25, 25 foreign vessels including one Vietnam-registered fishing boat were caught fishing off the coasts of Bintulu and Labuan.

As a seafood freak, I’m curious about what our Maritime Enforcement Agency do with the fish.

Distribute the catch among deserving senior citizens?

Seriously, though, those fishing boats have taken away our fish.

Is there anything that we can do to stop this plunder?

What about other natural resources that belong to us around the Beting Patinggi Ali?

First the fish – then, the oil and the gas?

This week, Parliament was informed by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, that the National Petroleum Company (Petronas) would continue exploring for oil and gas within our own territorial waters in the South China Sea. He had personally informed China’s President Xi Jinping and Xi’s right-hand man, Li Qiang, about this activity.

I like this personal approach. The message was delivered to the right place at the right time, in broad daylight, to the person in charge of China. I must say that our Prime Minister wasted no time in direct dealing with foreign leaders, instead of just relying on the services of the diplomats.

It is good to be open in telling the top Chinese leaders about the extent of our sovereign rights in the so-called South China Sea. No more, no less.

How did President Xi react? I wish I knew. A million-dollar question.

It is important for our leaders to show to the world how crucial it is for every country to recognise and honour international boundaries.

We must assert our territorial ownership rights under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). I’m sure this has been the thrust of our foreign policy all this while.

Having said all this, it is needless to stress that we must do our bit to defend the safety of our territorial waters.

I should not be asking about how prepared we are in defending our rights in the South China Sea – I have no intention to reveal state secrets. But it is exactly the sort of question that many people would ask every time they read or hear about what’s happening in the South China Sea.

People of a littoral state want to be assured that the country is ready and fit to face any eventuality – to defend our national sovereignty. Our common property is out there; our potential riches are lying under our very own territorial sea! And we do not covet the property of others.

What is happening to the ships that we need for surveillance of our shores and, if need be, for combat purposes? A special set of craft were planned to be built, ready for service by this year, but none of them are ready to sail.

Meanwhile the sailors and other personnel already trained and keen to get on board are doing something else. How frustrated they must be!

Surely we must be fully equipped with the necessary tools to deal with any intruder in any part of our territorial waters! I am thinking about those littoral combat ships (LCS). Are we building new ships of similar capabilities, or completing the half- finished vessels?

And will it take months? Years? Decades?

There has been silence on this matter for months. Ships cannot be swept under the carpet!

Subject to correction, I don’t remember any MP asking a question relating to LCS in the current parliamentary session. It is an important question for the new government to clarify.

And once we’ve got the ships, we need sailors. How many young Malaysians from Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak are joining the Navy?

I suggest that the government initiate a campaign of awareness among the young people in Sarawak and Sabah to join the Navy. Many young people from Sarawak are working in the oil fields in several countries; they are not afraid of the sea.

The Ibans aren’t called the ‘Sea Dayaks’ for nothing!

Guarantee that they will be given fair and equal treatment when it comes to promotion, and see how many sign up.

The best way to defend a country, on land or at sea, is to be ready. Any prospective enemy will think twice before attacking a nation that’s living in peace, but ready for war!