Do's and don'ts: A visitor looking at the signs on prohibited behaviour plastered on a pillar at the immigration checkpoint of the Batam ferry terminal. - The Straits Times/ Asia News Network
Thud, thud, silence, and again, thud, thud.
These days only the sound of officers stamping passports breaks the quiet at the immigration queue at the Batam Centre International Ferry Terminal.
Ferry passengers from Singapore and Malaysia, one moment boisterous and chatty after disembarking, automatically zip their lips when they enter. To speak, even in a whisper, could lead to deportation – and ruined holiday plans.
Ferry operators and passengers said that Batam immigration officers have recently begun enforcing silence strictly.
When reporters visited the Batam terminal last Thursday, signs pasted on pillars showed a picture of a raised finger over a pair of lips.
But that warning can escape some visitors, who end up perplexed when told suddenly to take the next ferry back to Singapore because they were caught speaking.
Guo Kai Kai went to Batam late last month for a weekend getaway with four friends. The 25-year-old, who works in the maritime sector, was chatting in the queue when he and a friend were told to leave.
He said an immigration officer had earlier warned them to stop talking, but he had “no idea the penalty was going to be so harsh”.
“I was there for a holiday – why couldn’t I open my mouth? I was just chit-chatting with my friend,” he said, adding that it was unreasonable to remain silent if the queue was long.
Guo said he was waiting in line for half an hour.
The pair were led to the departure hall by an immigration officer, who told them to get on the next boat to Singapore, which they did.
“We were not even given the chance to explain and apologise,” he said, describing how they had pleaded with boarding agents to let them speak to the authorities but were flatly refused.
The trip to Batam takes about an hour each way and a round trip costs about S$50 (RM126), including surcharges and terminal taxes.
Guo and his friend did return to Batam. When they got to Singapore, they took another boat to Sekupang, a different ferry terminal on Batam, at an extra cost of about S$50 (RM126) each.
Ferry operators said the same rules apply at Sekupang, too, but are not so strictly enforced.
Nur Intan Syafinaz, who visited Batam a few weeks ago, said that she saw families being split up because one member was forced to turn back after being caught talking.
“There was one woman who was pleading with the officer to let her in because her whole family went through except for her,” said the 23-year-old flight attendant.
The authorities in Batam defended their approach.
Batam Centre Immigration Office chief Irwanto Suhaili said his officers needed the quiet to maintain order.
Otherwise, tourists would not be able to “hear us when we call their names or ask them to step forward”, he said. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network