Sabah authorities to probe barge damage on coral reefs around Mabul Island

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Datuk Jafry Ariffin speaks to the media during a press conference in Tawau February 26, 2021. — Bernama pic
Datuk Jafry Ariffin speaks to the media during a press conference in Tawau February 26, 2021. — Bernama pic

KOTA KINABALU, June 26 — The state environmental department will look into taking action against the barge operators that has damaged the coral reefs around Mabul Island, one of Sabah’s most popular dive destinations.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Jafry Ismail said that it would be difficult to take action against the operators because the damaged site was not a protected area and did not come under the purview of the wildlife or environmental protection laws.

“The environmental protection department will be making a detailed investigation to determine the provisions where action can be taken,” he said in a statement today.

He said that a site visit was made by the Semporna district office and other relevant authorities and the offending barge was removed from the area after the accident was reported yesterday.

“The area doesn’t come under Sabah Parks or the wildlife Department. The fisheries department also doesn’t have provisions for coral reef damage. We will do our best to find the loopholes in our legal jurisdiction to ensure possible enforcement to protect our environment,” he said.

Jafry said that the incident was no small matter, having impacted coral reefs that take hundreds of years to grow and that the area was environmentally significance as one of the state’s most visited islands for diving enthusiasts.

Yesterday, it was reported that a barge carrying construction material for the Esscom’s front operation base collided into the coral reefs of Mabul, specifically, the dive site Paradise One. The project, approved in February this year, was approved to Hartamas Borneo Sdn Bhd.

As the barge approached the island, a resort manager on the island on the night of June 24, said they tried to intervene and told the contractors that the barge was too big to safely land on Mabul.

They said that if the barge tried to land on the island it would get stuck on the coral reef and cause considerable damage, but their concern was ignored.

To this, Jafry said restorative measures will be taken by the agencies under his ministry specifically Sabah Parks which has conducted such efforts before.

He said that they had previously conducted coral restoration projects at Sipadan Island that were also damaged by a barge in 2006 as well as reefs hit by the MV Lewang ship at Taman Tun Mustapha in Kudat in 2019.

“The first step is to assess the level of damage, followed by the restoration steps. Based on experience, it is important to carry out early restoration immediately to re-position the damaged reefs so they can survive.

“My ministry and I will continue to monitor the situation and the restoration process from time to time,” Jafry said.

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