Keeping close watch on Johor’s coastal hotspots

Sanifah (centre) with other maritime officers keeping a lookout for smugglers during an operation. - Bernama

PONTIAN: Several areas in the west coast of Johor are considered hotspots, serving as entry points for illegal immigrants and the smuggling of banned goods into the state.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) is on constant guard against this menace, which shows no signs of abating.

At present, the focus of surveillance is on locations such as Parit Jawa and Sungai Muar in Muar, Sungai Semerah and Sungai Ayam in Batu Pahat, Sungai Buntu and Sungai Api-Api in Pontian.

Johor Maritime Operations deputy director captain Sanifah Yusof said the state’s west coast areas had become the favourite landing points for immigrants and smugglers.

He said they were surrounded by mangroves, making it difficult for the authorities to approach.

“The immigrants’ modus operandi is to enter the coastal area by boat during high tide and into the mangrove forest where the waters are shallow, ” said Sanifah during the Ops Benteng operations of Johor MMEA along Pontian waters.

Ops Benteng was launched specifically on the hotspots along the Straits of Malacca to contain the influx of illegal immigrants into Malaysia.

The operation kicked off last month under the National Task Force, and is a collaboration between the army, the police, MMEA, Health Ministry, Malaysia Civil Defence Force, Immigration Department and People’s Volunteer Corps (Rela).

Sanifah said Johor MMEA’s surveillance covered the west coast starting from Sungai Kesang in Muar to the west of Johor Causeway, which included 231km of area along the coast off the Straits of Malacca, covering 3,889 sq km.

While on the east coast, he said it involved the eastern side of the Johor Causeway up until the borders of Pahang, a 254km stretch along the coast with an area of 10,445 sq km.

He said the surveillance task involved 500 personnel from the Batu Pahat Maritime Zone, Tanjung Sedili Maritime Zone as well as Mersing Maritime Zone using 11 ships and 21 fast intervention boats owned by the agency.

To facilitate surveillance, Johor MMEA is assisted by aerial patrol coordinated by the MMEA headquarters in Putrajaya and two Sea Surveillance System radars in Tanjung Piai, Pontian and Segenting, Batu Pahat.

Last year, 37,141 inspections were mounted on boats in the state’s waters, with a total of 170 arrests while between Jan 1 and June 9 this year, 18,275 checks were conducted and 108 people arrested.

They were arrested for offences committed under the Fisheries Act 1985, Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952, Customs Act 1967, Immigration Act 1959/63 and the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.

The value of seizures last year was recorded at RM138.6mil, while this year RM32.4mil worth of seizures was recorded so far. —Bernama

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