Home, Agriculture, Defence Ministries join forces to tackle worsening illegal fishing problem

R. Loheswar
Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Liew Chin Tong and Datuk Salahuddin Ayub arrive for a press conference in Putrajaya April 24, 2019. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

PUTRAJAYA, April 24 — The Home Ministry, Ministry of Agriculture and Agro based Industry (MoA), and Ministry of Defence are joining forces to tackle the issue of foreign fishing vessels encroaching into Malaysian waters.

In an announcement today, the Home Ministry said it will lead this task force with the Cabinet’s approval to mobilise all available assets to tackle the issue which is costing the local fish industry RM6 billion in losses each year.

“Cases of foreign fisherman encroaching into our waters is nothing new but lately it’s getting worse,” said Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin during the joint press conference at his ministry here.

“It follows the seasons, and right now is cuttlefish season. These illegal fishermen pay no heed to our laws and are now coming in to hunt fishes and cuttlefishes.

“Prior to today, we have made several arrests and there are also cases pending trial. However, from now on, we’re going to mobilise our ships and assets in a coordinated way and work with the various agencies to tackle this issue,” he added.

Agriculture Minister Datuk Salahuddin Ayub who was also in attendance said most of the illegal fishing vessels entering Malaysian waters come from Vietnam.

He said his ministry had been receiving a high number of complaints and requests for assistance from fisherman around the east cost of Malaysia, and he felt the threat was growing.

Salahuddin said on October last year, he attended a forum for agricultural ministries from all over Asia, and he brought up this matter with his Vietnam counterpart during a private bilateral session there.

“I brought this issue up when I met the minister from Vietnam last year and Malaysia alone can’t tackle this issue. It takes two to tango,” said Salahuddin.

“For the record, MoA has never given fishing licences or permits to foreign vessels to operate in Malaysia.”

“There could be elements of power abuse or corruption where some of the illegal vessels have certain permits to fish here, but officially, we have never given any permits to foreign ships.

“In fact, we are losing RM6 billion a year to illegal fishing,” he added.

Due to this, Muhyiddin said they are asking the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to join them in this task force as well.

“I do not know for sure if there are elements of corruption and foul play but one way to ensure proper governance is to bring the MACC in,” said Muhyiddin.

As for whether the Vietnamese authorities are aware of the situation, Muhyiddin said: “Well, I think they should know but the fact is sometimes these so-called fishermen do things on their own.

“What can be done is we will inform the Vietnamese authorities to advise their people not to go beyond their own waters.

“Hopefully, with us mobilising our assets and signalling our intent to tackle this issue properly, we can deter future vessels from encroaching into our waters.” added Muhyiddin.

Besides the three ministries and the MACC, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia, Immigration Department, Royal Malaysian Police, Foreign Ministry and Department of Fisheries are all involved in the task force.

According to the MMEA, since 2006, there have been 747 reported cases of encroachment that have been caught and arrested by Malaysian authorities. The majority of these ships have been sunk. This year alone, the MMEA have caught 41 illegal vessels.

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