Monday, October 15, 2007

That Sinking Feeling

(Source: the Star online)

Today's newspapers and Malaysiakini reports of a maritime disaster off Mersing where "survivors of a Malaysian ferry fire which left four dead and four injured described a terrifying scene as the ageing vessel filled with smoke, forcing them to hurl their children into the sea". The Star reports of the ferry Seagull Express that "On Saturday, 4 passengers of the ferry drowned while 99 others, including 3 crew members, were plucked out from the sea after the vessel caught fire while on its way to Pulau Tioman. Three other passengers are still missing."

Sheesh. I have always thought that this sort of thing can only happen in places like the Philippines or Indonesia where they are very relak about safety standards. But here in Malaysia? Obviously heads must roll and as usual the Ministry of Transport will just await reports which will take some time coming.

Fellow mariner Capt Karim comments in my previous blog about the possibility of criminal negligence on the part of authorities and recommends the setup of an independent professional Marine Accident Investigation Board tasked to investigate all marine casualties. This is especially so as in the past, "maritime incidents have been poorly investigated and shortcomings have been simply swept under the carpet. In many cases the guilty were not punished. Innocent lives will continue to be lost at sea if the typical Malaysian lackadaisical 'tiada apa' attitude continues unchecked."

I do concur. Only when innocent lives are lost are the wheels of government usually set to turn. Here I was told that in the case of the PKFZ debacle or the current mess in the judiciary and unlike the Hong Kong BMF scandal where someone, an accountant I believe, was murdered, we can forget about Royal Commissions of Inquiry. Unless someone gets bumped off first, that is.


  1. Thanks for the post Captain Yusof. The Star on-line today reports:-'Police have recorded statements from the captain and two crew members of the ferry.....

    OCPD Deputy Supt Abdullah Sani Salat said police were only concentrating on the cause of the fire on board the ferry in their investigations, as the Marine Department is the proper authority conducting a thorough probe on the matter.

    “We will help in the efforts to retrieve the wreckage of the ferry that is submerged in the sea. Efforts to look for the three missing passengers are still on going.

    “Our main investigations will focus on whether there was any foul play involved in the death of the four passengers,” he said.'

    [The idiom -foul play- means "Dishonest or treacherous behaviour; also violent conduct. This certainly includes, bribery, corruption, mismanagement, etc.]

    So the police have stated what they are prepared to investigate. Who then will investigate the Marine Department, the Marine Police, the MMEA, the ferry owner and operator, the Master and crew, and others for possible dereliction of duty, incompetence, bribery and corruption, etc.?
    Surely the Marine Department cannot conduct a thorough impartial probe, as it would involve investigating itself. Of course a Departmental internal inquiry needs to be carried out by all the departments/agencies involved, but this is a separate issue.
    The only way to ensure an impartial comprehensive investigation is to have it carried out by a professional and independent Marine Accident Investigation Board, modelled on that set up in the United Kingdom other countries.

  2. i was hoping that no one would wake up you-know-who to issue a statement. bah! bas crashed, gimme report. lorry terbalik, gimme report. ferry tenggelam, gimme report. pkfz dah nak setengah mati, gimme report.

    bila negara dah nak botak kena cukur, gimme report jugak ke?

  3. Dear Captain,

    I'm sure that the latest neophyte to the jet setting fraternity who went a-sailing on a yacht with his bevy of beauties and buddies while Johore was awash with the monsoon didn't for one moment have to fear such a tragedy befalling him.

    He's safer on well regulated and enforced Aussie waters. Hence his aversion to spending one minute more than necessary helping out the unfortunates on his own turf, on his watch.

    Crafty chap, this.

  4. capt

    its a miracle more than 100 people survived. another tragedy another investigation. they dont understand that prevention is better than cure.
    may be they have no time to look into all these crap about preventive measures. all their brains are focus on concorting another leeching scheme like the RM4.6 billion PKA scandal.

  5. Sabar. We will wait for the investigation report....just wondering who is going to investigate what...banyak sangat to investigate. On a positive front suggest IKMAL volunteer an independent marine professional for the investigation if we are approached by the authorities.

  6. Kapitan sah, you and Captain Stu Russel should initiate this NMAIB.Does somebody got to die before the government open their eyes to the mismanagement of all branches of the govt.? Am I right in surmising that this blatant disregard for certification and licensing results from this close-one-eye malady across the board?

  7. Two guys I hear from Marine Dept are suspended from this incident. Poor guys they must be at the end of the food chain. What about $4.6 bill down the drain PKFZ(ports)? What about the aborted E-kesihatan project(land transport)? what about palestinian stowaway on Singapore airlines from KLIA(Airport)? It covers SEA, LAND and AIR in the last one month
    and all three under the leadership of MR Chan Kong Choy?
    Well he is whistling to office. He is the predator for contracts. CKC why don't you say something on PKFZ?

  8. Pemerhati:

    Like I wrote earlier, the govt will only be seen to act over dead bodies. The PKFZ RM4.6 billion? Its only money. OUR money.

  9. Zorro said: 'Am I right in surmising that this blatant disregard for certification and licensing results from this close-one-eye malady across the board?'
    Sadly the answer can only be YES.
    Not only one, but most likely both eyes have been closed.
    The two junior Marine Department staff, who are reported to have been suspended, are just the small fry, they will most probably be sacrificed, as convenient scapegoats.
    I await the detailed results of the so called 'investigation', assuming of course they are ever made available to the public.
    However, I am not at all hopeful that the investigation will be thorough, impartial, professional, transparent, and doubt if all the culprits will be identified and brought to book.

  10. capt

    jeff ooi gave a good account of the ministry's lackadaisical attitude. apparently, a tourist has forewarned in her letter that a tragedy is waiting to be happened with the flouting of laws by the ferry operators. that letter was dated in 2006, oops a year ago and nothing was done.
    guess, the priorities are placed elsewhere. like ensuring RM4.6 billion goes to the vultures in the PKA scandal. like e-kesihatan gets launched before it was stopped in the tracks by the cabinet itself after protests. goosh, hasnt this scheme been sanctioned by the cabinet before launch? or is it the same case where government guarantees were given before given the greenlight by MOF, a clear abuse by the Minister of Transport.
    Good for you, Mr Chan. I am no supporter of OKT but you deserve all these brickbats. your priorities are to serve your political masters in UMNO; not the people. you reap what you sow, Mr Chan. Time for you to go for another psuedo medical checkup in Australia.

  11. Knee jerk reactions are beginning to be reported by the press. These are from both politicians and the marine authorities. Such ad-hoc, face saving, reaction is expected from those who are either milking every drop of political mileage out of the tragedy, or who are trying to cover up their past misdeeds by pretending to be efficient after the fact. Such behaviour is both shallow and despicable, merely shameless window dressing which can be likened to closing the gate after the horse has bolted. This is just talking the talk.
    What is required is walking the talk, this requires efficient, effective and constant surveillance and 24/7 zero-tolerance enforcement.
    Unless and until the authorities, both at sea and on shore, do their work without fear or favour, accidents will continue to be frequent and innocent lives will be lost. Where has the sense of public service before self, responsibility, accountability and professional pride gone too?
    Will there be an independent full inquiry which will result in a quantum shift in the 'tiada apa' apathy which is endemic in today's Malaysia? There had better be, as judging by the reports in all the mainstream press, blogs as well as other media, the Malaysian public demands nothing less.

  12. Capt.Yosuf, Actually I am sick of all these happening. The question is where are those people who are suppose to ensure that rules are adhered to. Why act only after the fact. Sad, indeed a sad situation, one after the other, when is it going to stop, I wonder.

  13. BERNAMA REPORT:"Investigations into the Seagull Express 2 ferry which caught fire and sank off Pulau Tioman on Saturday is expected to be completed in another three days, Peninsular Malaysia Marine Department director-general Datuk Ahmad Othman said Friday.

    He said a report on the probe encompassing all angles, including management and maintenance practices of the ferry service concerned, would be submitted to the Transport Ministry."
    "He also welcomed the proposed construction of a new jetty in Mersing." -- BERNAMA
    Question 1:
    Will the report be unbiased, independent, professional and really cover all angles, including any misdeeds of the Marine Department itself. Going by the statement it would appear that the emphasis is going to be on the ferry owner and operator. It seems that for the report to be completed in just over a week, it can only be a superficial and targeted report.
    Only a thorough investigation by totally independent marine professionals would be able to identify the many reasons why the tragedy occurred. A whitewashing cover up will do nothing to improve that standard of marine safety in Malaysia, it will of course try to prevent the guilty go scot free.
    The Minister of Transport should insist that there is a proper investigation, which leads to an honest and transparent conclusions.
    Question 2:
    How will a new jetty at Mersing, asproposed by Jamaluddin Jarjis contribute to the safety of ferry passengers? There is already a relatively new jetty at Tanjung Gemok, not far from Mersing which was built using taxpayers' money, this jetty caters for ferries to Pulau Tioman. Any jetty at Mersing would need to be extremely long if it was to be accessible at all states of the tide, in fact this tidal restriction was the reason the Tanjung Gemok Jetty was built.

  14. A correction to one sentence in my previous comment, apologies for the error. The intended words should be:-

    'A whitewashing cover up will do nothing to improve the standard of marine safety in Malaysia, it will of course try to help some of the guilty go scot free.'

    It is a pleasant change to see that at least one politician has been reported as walking the talk as far as the ferries from Port Klang to Indonesia and Pulau Ketam are concerned.
    The NST reported as follows.
    " Khir slams marine officers
    PORT KLANG: The Marine Department got a lashing from Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo over its lackadaisical attitude in inspecting ferries operating from here.
    During a surprise check on two ferries here yesterday morning, Dr Khir found that the emergency exits could not be opened and the life jackets were difficult to reach.
    “How can you approve this? If this was an emergency, we will all be dead by the time we get the life jackets out,” he told the department’s officers and the ferry operator.
    Dr Khir first checked the Tanjung Balai bound ferry Sri Aman 2 and found that the life jackets were placed very high and pressed together so tightly that it was almost impossible for him to take them out.
    He then tried to open the emergency exit door but failed. He then asked a Marine Department officer to open it and he, too, could not. It finally opened when an iron rod was used to turn the hatch.
    He reprimanded them for not doing their work properly.

    “If you can’t even do this, then just write a letter saying so and leave,” he said.

    He said instructions on the use of life jackets should also be placed behind every seat and passengers should be shown how to use them.

    He then boarded a Pulau Ketam ferry and was similarly disappointed.

    Speaking to the press later, he said although there were safety measures, it would be futile if it took 30 minutes to deploy them.

    “We see that the attitude here is to take things lackadaisically.” "

    Dr. Khir has, to his credit, succinctly homed in to the root cause of the ferry disaster off Mersing in which many innocent lives were lost. Charges of dereliction of duty resulting in manslaughter may well be appropriate ones to consider laying on all those implicated, including the marine enforcement authorities. Furthermore, the Anti Corruption Agency (BPR) now needs to thoroughly investigate regarding bribery and corruption which more than likely were the tools used to encourage the lackadaisical attitude of all those concerned.

  15. Capt,

    Mersing is the jump-off point for my annual fishing trip to Pemanggil and Tioman.

    Marine department enforcement (or their presence for that matter) is none-existent, I tell ya! Whether during daytime or the graveyard shift.

    So the ferry operators 'run' the jetty, folks.

    An impartial investigation is indeed paramount to determine criminal negligence on both the Marine department officers as well as the ferry operator.

    But what do we hear instead? Another new prevent future tragic mishaps such as this one? Hey there's one at T.Gemok mainly because of the perennial problem of shallow draft at Mersing. And I thought the boat burst into flames, not the jetty. What gives? Nak bagi kontrak mah untuk PRU akan datang kan?

  16. The media today reported:-
    Two Marine Department officers who were suspended following the Mersing ferry tragedy on Oct 13 will face a disciplinary hearing.
    The Minister of Transport, was reported as saying
    “A committee, headed by secretary-general Datuk Zakaria Bahari has completed its inquiry and has recommended that the two officers face disciplinary hearing,” said

    He also is reported as saying that the department's investigations on the ferry operator – Seagull Express and Accommodation Sdn Bhd (Seagull) – is expected to conclude by the end of this month.

    “If there is concrete evidence of the operator’s negligence, we will seek advice from the Attorney-General’s Chambers on the best action to take,” he said.

    As to the intention of many families to sue the parties responsible for the tragedy, Chan said: “It is their right. We have to respect that.”

    Well, as expected the investigation is thus far confined to a MOT and Marine Dept. 'in house' investigation. It seems, according to the media reports, to be focusing only on the ferry owner/operator, and the two junior officers of the Marine Department.
    Such superficial investigations are only scratching the surface, there must be a web of malpractices awaiting exposure and there will be many others who should be thoroughly investigated for possible criminal neglect, dereliction of duty, bribery and corruption, and even other even more serious offences like manslaughter. As I have said before, the ACA should begin an investigation, and an independent Marine Accident Investigation Board should be established to properly investigate the ferry disaster and all other marine accidents.
    Regarding the intent of the many families of the bereaved and those who were injured / suffered loses as a result of the incident to sue, I am of the opinion that this is a right that they should initiate and pursue vigorously.
    Identifying a few parties as convenient scapegoats will not be effective in making the seas safer, as they will surely be just the tip of a huge iceberg.

  17. It is Halowe'en's Day today, but more significantly, today [according to the Star on line report of 30 October (see below)] 31 October 2007, is the day the report into the ferry disaster will be sent to the Minister of Transport.

    "Ferry report ready, STAR, Wednesday 30 October 2007.
    JOHOR BARU: The report on Seagull Express 2 which caught fire and sank near Pulau Tioman on Oct 13 will be handed over to Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy tomorrow.
    Marine Department director-general Datuk Kapt Ahmad Othman said an independent team from the federal headquarters handled the investigations.
    Seven passengers died in the tragedy. A total of 106 people were on board during the incident."

    Before the report has come into public view , assuming it ever will, I must question how "independent" can the team from the Marine Department Headquarters be, as they should, amongst other things, be investigating their own Department's Southern Region Division?
    As I have said before, marine accident investigations should be undertaken by a professional, truly independent, impartial, and therefore credible, Marine Accident Investigation Board.

    A STAR media report today stated,
    "Higher ferry fares to Langkawi soon
    ALOR STAR: Ferry passengers to Langkawi via Kuala Perlis and Kuala Kedah will have to pay higher fares starting from the middle of next month.STAR 31.10.2007
    Higher ferry fares to Langkawi soon
    ALOR STAR: Ferry passengers to Langkawi via Kuala Perlis and Kuala Kedah will have to pay higher fares starting from the middle of next month.
    The increase is believed to be between RM1 and RM5.
    Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy is expected to announce the new fares on Nov 7.
    State Industry, Transport, Science, Innovation and Chinese Community Committee chairman Datuk Chong Itt Chew said the last ferry fare review was made in 2004.
    “The increase was due to fuel price hikes and increase in ferry operational costs,” he told newsmen after chairing a meeting with eight ferry operators, Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (APMM) and Marine Department officers yesterday.
    The existing fare from Kuala Kedah is RM18 and RM15 from Kuala Perlis.
    Chong said the RM3 discount given to Langkawi residents would remain.
    He said with the new fares, the state government wanted ferry operators to improve their services to justify the increase.
    “The state government has set a guideline for ferry operators to follow. If they fail to comply, their ferries will be confiscated,” he said.
    He also said all 40 ferry captains and more than 100 crewmembers must attend a three-month training organised by APMM and the Marine Department.
    He said the training would focus on safety procedures and work ethics.
    Chong said ferry operators were given three months to provide adequate life jackets for their passengers and crew members on board their ferries.
    “They must also provide proper luggage compartments for passengers to keep their goods to create ample exit routes during emergencies,” he added.
    Chong also said ferry captains and crew members must wear uniforms for easier identification and they must be punctual."

    There are a lot of important questions arising from this media report.

    Firstly. What direct role does any state government play regarding marine safety? Answer NONE.

    Secondly. What in-house marine safety expertise does any state government staff have? Answer ZERO.

    Thirdly, regarding the content of the Star article, the following are things which should be standard operating procedures, SOP.
    Captain and crew training.
    Proper stowage for luggage so as not to impede exits.
    The provision of sufficient effective approved adult life jackets for the licensed and certified total number of passengers and crew, AND, IN ADDITION, an approved number of life jackets suitable for persons under 40 kilogramme (ie children) must be provided.
    [These life jackets are, of course in addition to other statutory life saving and fire fighting equipment, communications equipment, RADAR, etc.]
    Uniforms to enable recognition.

    The above are not whimsical things, which can be used as excuses for a rise in the ferry fares. They should all be in place before a boat is licensed and before a passenger Safety Certificate is issued.
    No time grace period should be allowed, to enable ferry owners / operators to comply, any deficit must be immediately rectified, failing which the ferry must, without exception, be immediately taken out of service.

    The increase in the cost of fuel oil and rises in other operating cost should be justification enough.

    Fourthly, on the question of punctuality, I agree that that is important, but keeping to a sailing schedule should never be used as an excuse for not sailing the ferry at a safe speed taking into account the weather conditions and the and range of visibility.

    Safety of Life at Sea, seems, even now, to be an afterthought! A knee-jerk reaction, or perhaps a convenient way to gain political mileage.
    This kind of shit has got to stop.

  18. I believe less people will be going to tioman with this incidence, shut one eye...the island will be deserted.


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