Salvage work on wartime shipwrecks underway, angering Malaysian fishermen
Malaysian tourism minister says the university behind the work should have been more ‘consultative’ with relevant bodies
By Avila Geraldine
Salvage work, carried out in the popular wreck dive site in the Usukan waters off Malaysia’s Kota Belud, where four Japanese shipwrecks from the World War 2 are located, has angered divers and local fishermen.
The project is said to be carried out by the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS)‘s archaeological research unit for research purposes.
Photographs of the salvage work have been widely shared on social media, raising concern and anger among divers as well as local fishermen who use the area as their fishing ground.
They expressed fear of a possibility that the wrecks would be taken out from the waters.
A photograph of the approval letter from the Sabah Marine Department, with regards to the salvage work, has been forwarded to New Straits Times. It noted that the approved duration for work is from January 6 to April 6.
The letter stated that the department director had approved the work, to be carried out by a China registered vessel. The letter however did not mention any removal of items from the wrecks.
Instead, it stated that approval must be obtained from the department director if there is any action to dispose the wreck or to bring the wreck to another location.
Meanwhile, Sabah Marine Department director Abdul Nasar Abdul Hadi when contacted confirmed that the approval for the salvage work in Usukan areas was given following a discussion between several agencies such as UMS, Sabah Museum, Sabah Parks, and National Security Council.
“The salvage work involves taking materials from the wrecks on to a salvage vessel. The research group will be inspecting the materials and others related to their research study.
“No wreck is allowed to be taken out. The salvage work does not involve removing the entire shipwrecks from the water,” he pointed out.
A UMS lecturer involved in the research project has also confirmed that the varsity will only be taking materials related to their studies.
Meanwhile, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun expressed surprise by the salvaging activities.
“UMS should have been more consultative with relevant ministry like the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry and even my own Ministry.
“I have received complaints from the diving fraternity and local fishermen. UMS has probably overlooked the economic significance of the wreck site.” he said.