Friday, May 14, 2004

Some Leaders Don't See When They Look

Read the following news reports and judge for yourself what our leaders are talking about.

1. 9 May 2004
Nazri: Lift night stay ban on island of Sipadan
SEMPORNA: Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz will propose to the Cabinet to lift the night-stay ban on the diving resort island of Sipadan here, following improved security.

It is not practical and a burden to operators who have to bring the tourists out of the island before nightfall,” he told reporters here.

The Government had imposed the night-stay ban after armed men abducted nine Malaysians and 12 foreigners from the island in April 2000.

Nazri, who visited the island yesterday, said he would also propose to the Cabinet to set up a body to supervise the development of islands in the country.

He said such a proposal was also made under former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Earlier when addressing members of the Tawau natural disaster committee, he said the National Security Division should be notified of any disaster to enable speedy assistance to be given to those affected.

He said such committees should also identify potential disasters in areas marked for development. –Bernama

2. 1 July 2003 Sabah Tourism
DPM Visits Sipadan, Happy with Security (Daily Express, 1st July 2003)

Pulau Sipadan: Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Monday visited Pulau Sipadan and expressed satisfaction with the level of security on the island, a diving haven in Semporna water off East Coast of Sabah.

“I am happy with the situation in this area which is good and safe.. there has not been a criminal case since the one which happened previously (a kidnapping on April 23 2000). After that there has been no more incident and those visiting this island are all safe,” the Deputy Prime Minister told reporters covering his visit.

Abdullah who is also Home Minister flew in a helicopter from Tawau to the resort island of Mabul before taking a 20-minute boat ride to Pulau Sipadan where he spent about two hours.

Abdullah is the most senior government leader to visit Pulau Sipadan after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, in a decision on Dec 17, 2002 declared that the island and Pulau Ligitan belong to Malaysia.

Pulau Sipadan, the size of almost two football fields and located 21.8 nautical miles off Semporna town is listed as one of the top five scuba-diving destinations in the world. On April 23, 2000 a group of Abu Sayyaf gunman kidnapped 21 people, comprising nine Malaysians, two Filipinos and 10 foreign tourists on the island and took them in a boat to Jolo Island in Southern Philippines.

The victims were released in stages within six months except for the last hostage, Filipino Roland Ullah who escaped from the kidnappers early this month. When asked on the travel advisory issued by the United States on Malaysia, especially Sabah which is said to be exposed to Southern Philippines, Abdullah said the fact was that Malaysia was a safe country.

My advice is whoever wants to visit Sipadan should come. It is a beautiful island and they will have the advantage of seeing the (marine) treasure here,” he said.

Asked whether the Government would give special allocations to develop Pulau Sipadan, Abdullah said the matter had yet to be discussed. Abdullah said the discussion held in conjunction with his visit only touched on the question of the presence security forces in waters around the island.

During the visit, he was accompanied by Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman and 1st Division Commander Lt. Jen Datuk Pahlawan Mohamad Azumi Mohamed – Bernama

3. 14 May 2004 Daily Express
Order to vacate Sipadan
Kota Kinabalu: Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman confirmed Thursday that the five dive companies operating on the popular destination of Sipadan have been told to remove all man-made structures on the island by the end of this year.

This is in compliance to notices issued by the National Security Division. Musa said the directive was based on the recommendation by a special Federal-State committee co-chaired by the Chief Secretary and State Secretary. It was aimed at safeguarding Sipadan’s pristine environment.

We have asked the operators to vacate and build their chalets or resorts at nearby islands and leave Sipadan as it is. People can only visit the island for day trips,” he said. “I think this is more towards protecting the environment in Sipadan.”

Musa, who is also State Security Committee Chairman, believed the firms concerned had been given ample time to look for alternatives.

“(But) I’ll leave it to the committee, which is a joint Federal-State committee,” he said when asked on appeals by the operators, some of whom reportedly described it as unexpected and harsh.

Sipadan shot to world fame when it was recognised by world renowned oceanographer, late Jaques Costeau, as one of the top 10 diving spots in the world.

It was also the scene of an infamous transborder kidnap involving the Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf guerillas where more than 20 foreigners and locals were taken hostage.

Currently the Government has limited the number of people coming into the island daily to just 80 or 16 per firm.

When contacted, State Secretary Datuk K.Y Mustafa said all the dive operators had been made aware of the decision since last year. “We are not asking them to cease operations but only to dismantle their chalets from the island.

“The island cannot afford to have too many people staying overnight as we don’t want solid waste harming the surroundings.

“They can operate from Semporna or nearby islands as long as they don’t let the tourists stay overnight on Sipadan,” he said.

Mustafa said the decision was based on the need to protect the surroundings of the island, including its environmental feature. He added the Federal Government had also consented to the decision.

The move would ensure that the island, a popular spot for turtles to lay eggs and a transit point for migratory birds, is totally protected.

“As a matter of fact, the physical shape of the island is unique as it stands only on one trunk and looks fragile. It is comparatively small in comparison to other Islands.

“If we don’t protect this heritage, then we would lose Sipadan as the best spot for diving in the world.”

Asked about any restrictions on operating hours, Mustafa replied that the time limit for diving had yet to be determined. However, it was advisable for the tour operators to do only daytime diving. Night diving would need special permission and a special guide.

It was learnt that all Sipadan dive operators will meet to discuss the Government’s directive. According to a source, the operators are now in a fix on how to continue their diving business on the island.

“The operators feel the operating from outside the island is not viable because it would take them to ferry the tourists about three to four hours to reach Sipadan during bad weather. Normally on fine weather, it only takes between 30 minutes and an hour to reach there.

“They could not accept the decision if the Government’s reason in imposing the move is to preserve the environment as illegal fishing and fish bombing will take place when the island is unoccupied,” the source said.

Giving an example, he said it is an open secret that fish bombing and illegal fishing in places like Pulau Tiga or Pulau Mantanani is rampant because nobody visits or even stays on the two islands and enforcement is lackadaisacal.

Unlike in Mabul, he said Sipadan faced a serious problem of fish bombing but when some resorts were built, these illegal activity ceased.

Do you see what I saw? Datuk Musa, do you?

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