Fishing in troubled waters

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The columnist says the problem of the construction of the LCS has, indeed, ‘revolved around politics’ for far too long. — Bernama photo

LAST week I wrote about food security in Sarawak, focusing on the self-insufficiency in rice, which is the staple food for most Malaysians.

Today it is about the security of two states, Sarawak and Sabah, members of the Federation of Malaysia, the object of our common loyalty.

Specifically, I am referring to the safety of our waters, the South China Sea. I would like to be assured that the shores in West and East Malaysia are perfectly secure.

Am I the only person who worries about China’s claim to ‘own’ the deep blue seas, as shown by the drawing of a fictitious nine-dash line?

A line drawn on water – how can this be true?

For the past several years, our waters have been encroached upon by fishermen from foreign countries. I am sure that our navy and other enforcement agencies are securing the waters within our national boundaries up to the Exclusive Economic Zone (200 nautical miles).

However, within this zone, we need men on ships to carry out regular patrols. They ensure that our fishermen are the only ones who fish here, and that foreign vessels are not allowed to exploit our resources without our permission.

For the coastal areas, we need additional assets in the form of littoral combat ships (LCS).

Two years ago, we heard about the problem with the construction of these ships. A sum of RM6 billion had been committed and most of it had been spent on the construction of the ships.

Since then, we have heard practically nothing about this project. What’s happening?

I remember reading a media statement by the then-defence minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein. He was reported by The Borneo Post (Aug 6, 2022) as having said that the ‘littoral combat ships project must continue’.

He was commenting on the call by the then-leader of the Opposition, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, to ‘halt the next phase of the LCS project’.

“We have to arrest this and stop the nonsense…the half a billion (for the next phase of the project) should be spent for the welfare of veterans who have been clamouring for support.”

The former defence minister considered Anwar’s call as something that ‘revolved around politics or part of apolitical game’.

I say the problem of the construction of the LCS has, indeed, ‘revolved around politics’ for far too long. It is expected of politicians to canvas for support from the Navy veterans, but the security of the country overrides the concerns of any particular interest group.

We need extra ships and more men to patrol our shores. The government must assure us that either the LCS project is being continued, or else, another project started to construct assets so that maritime security is enhanced.

We need more men too. At least this is to assure the Malaysians in the Borneo region that the security of our waters is ensured at all times.

For make no mistake: if trouble were to come from the sea, it would hit the Borneo coast first – Sabah and Sarawak!

When the former defence minister was at the Penrissen Army Camp in Kuching in early August 2022, he assured: “We want to convince the people of Sarawak in whatever situation they are in, that they can rely on the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence (Mindef).”

We shall remember that.

Now that we have a new government securely in place, we would like to know what the latest position is with regard to the LCS project.

Tension in the South China Sea has risen high after various near-collisions between ships of China and the Philippines. For the moment, they ‘only’ employ water cannons, but later something more lethal may be used.

It is natural that Malaysians in the Borneo region should get worried. What if there’s a war at our doorstep?

I normally use ‘touch wood’ to pray for no war. No amount of wood-touching will prevent a war when leaders of two or more countries want to go to war, for all sorts of reasons.

Don’t those fools know that nobody wins in a war? Watch the TV news, if you need to be convinced.

Not that we will join any war and deploy our LCS. We would prefer peace to war, but if there is conflict, we need to protect and defend our own country.

It is ironic that it is often the supposedly civilised countries, which prefer war to peace, are the ones loving the joys of conquests of territories and the destruction of buildings and human lives.

There is a distinct possibility of a nasty fight over ownership of the half submerged reefs in the Spratlys between our friends in Asean and China.

On another aspect of security, I do not hear about recruitment of personnel for our Navy from the Borneo States. To have a navy, you need ships – and men. I would suggest that serious effort be made to recruit boys from Sabah and Sarawak for the Royal Navy.

Give the boys from this part of Malaysia the chance to serve the King and the Country on all fronts – land, sea, and air.

Books have been written about how brave and good the Iban Trackers were in jungle warfare.

Recruit the young men among them to the Navy and let’s see if the Sea Dayaks are also good at sea.