KOTA KINABALU – The search and rescue (SAR) operation for the remaining five missing persons of the catamaran that capsized on January 28, is the longest in maritime history in Malaysia.
Entering its 41st day yesterday, Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Sabah and Labuan Regional director, First Admiral Zubil Mat Som, said it was the longest maritime SAR operation ever recorded in the country.
“I don’t know if there are any other SAR operations this long ever recorded.
“The Kudat incident last year took 11 days but fortunately all the four missing persons survived and were rescued by Vietnamese fishing boats,” he said during a meeting with boat operators and tour agents at the Kota Kinabalu MMEA office in Kolombong yesterday.
Touching on the catamaran SAR operation,Zubil said there was still no positive sign of any survivor.
Assets involved in the operation have been reduced while patrols are being carried out from Pulau Mengalum to Pulau Tiga.
“Search operations are currently confined to Kota Kinabalu waters while SAR in Brunei waters have ceased,” he said.
Zubil added that the chances of finding the four Chinese tourists and a local crewman, were slim as he believed their bodies would have sunk to the bottom of the sea.
The purpose of continuing the patrol operation, according to him, was made in the hope of finding any items that belong to the victims that can help in their investigation.
“If however we do find bones or pieces of flesh, we can determine the identity based on DNA,” he said.
Following the tragedy, Zubil said MMEA had carried out a special operation, dubbed ‘Ops Mengalum’, in trying to find solution and improvement so such incident would not recur in the future.
Since the operation started on February 18, MMEA had inspected 249 boats and 1,845 passengers, he said.
“Prior to the launch of Ops Mengalum, we have detained 22 vessels but since the operation started, only one vessel was held.
“This shows that boat operators have started to abide by maritime rules,” he said, hoping that such cooperation from boat operators would continue.
Zubil also said that Ops Mengalum and what was being done by MMEA, was not only on enforcement, but also on education.
“We want boat operators to be more responsible towards the safety of their passengers and crew. If boat operators are unsure of their boat’s condition or the weather condition, they have to alert us immediately so that we will be made aware of early,” he said, adding that SAR is an event or operation that relies on speed and early information.
“Speed ensures higher chances of survival rate.
“In this catamaran incident, we were only told 12 hours after the incident happened, that’s too late,” he said.
Zubil therefore reminded boat operators to start installing automatic identification system (AIS) and very high frequency (VHF) radios to make it easier for MMEA to locate boats or vessels that are stranded at sea and provide a rescue operation in an emergency.
“Unfortunately, most tourist boats are only equipped with safety equipment for their passengers such as life jackets.
“We understand that these systems (AIS and VHF) are costly but look at it as a future and safety investment.
“By installing AIS, we will be able to pint-point their exact location and the VHF to communicate during an emergency,” he said.
The catamaran that capsized on January 28 was carrying 28 tourists and three crewmen to Mengalum Island after leaving Tanjung Aru around 9am.
Bad weather was said to be the cause of the tragedy.
So far, only 20 of the tourists and two crewmen were rescued by SAR teams.
Only four bodies have been recovered by search and rescue teams, while five people are still missing. – The Borneo Post