Beacon of hope for fishermen in distress

Personal locator beacons like these should be worn by fishermen when at sea as they can signal the exact location of the victim, saving search time and ensuring a better chance of survival.

THE Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) is one of the bodies that fishermen rely on when they get into trouble at sea.

Its director-general Admiral Maritime Datuk Mohd Zubil Mat Som said a key performance index set by MMEA was that no fewer than 45 of the agency’s assets must be in Malaysian waters at any one time.

MMEA has five maritime rescue sub-centres for search and rescue (SAR) missions.

They are located in Langkawi to watch over the northern region, Kuantan for the eastern side, Johor for the south, Kota Kinabalu for Sabah and Kuching for Sarawak.

These rescue sub-centres are manned 24 hours, 365 days a year and utilise satellite tracking systems to narrow and estimate search locations for optimal results.

However, Admiral Zubil said SAR missions were expensive. A five-day rescue mission using a large patrol craft can come up to RM114,000.

If an air search is required, a Bombardier can cost the government up to nearly RM199,000 for three days.

Admiral Zubil (right) and Commander Suzanna at the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency’s rescue centre headquarters in Putrajaya. — Photos: SAMUEL ONG/The StarAdmiral Zubil (right) and Commander Suzanna at the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency’s rescue centre headquarters in Putrajaya. — Photos: SAMUEL ONG/The Star

Such costs could be avoided if fishermen paid heed to the advice given during safety programmes, he said.

“There is no excuse for not wearing a life jacket, no matter how cumbersome, ” he said when met at the MMEA headquarters in Putrajaya.

He added that fishermen’s willingness to embrace technology could also go a long way in saving lives when mishaps occur.

One example is in the usage of a personal locator beacon that can be worn by fishermen when they are at sea.

“These personal beacons send signals to the Cospas-Sarsat system which detects and locates emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships and victims in distress to SAR authorities.

“It has been in Malaysia since 2015 but is still underutilised, ” said Admiral Zubil.

This device is able to signal the exact location of the victim, saving search time and ensuring better chances of survival.

“It costs about RM1,500. It may seem pricey to an individual user but what is this cost when compared to the value of a life?”

MMEA Search and Rescue division acting director Commander Maritime Dr Suzanna Razali Chan said the number of SAR missions carried out by the agency nationwide were 275 cases for 2019 and 242 for 2020.

For Selangor, it was 21 in 2019 and 12 in 2020. Of these, 14 cases are fatal and six are still missing at sea.

“More than 50% of these accidents involve fishing boats.

“Bad weather combined with ignorance of safety precautions before going out to sea are the major causes, ” she said.

Meanwhile, Selangor Fisheries Department director Abdul Rahman Abdul Wahab said the Kuala Langat fishing community was an important contributor to the fishing industry.

“In 2019 alone, fish landings in this area amounted to 2,578.57 metric tonnes, which is equivalent to RM80,812,336 in retail value, ” he said.

To safeguard the welfare of fishermen, licensing regulations dictate that all vessels must be equipped with basic safety equipment such as life vests, ring buoys and fire extinguishers.

Without them, licence renewals will not be approved.

Abdul Wahab said that following negative reactions to the old life vest design, it had since been changed to a more user-friendly version in accordance with the standards set by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.

The department has also started a radio programme in Kelantan, which has proven useful in SAR missions during the monsoon season.

It has since been expanded to Kedah, Perak and Selangor. The programme is still at its pilot stage and will be expanded in stages.

On the kill switch idea, Abdul Rahman said it would be forwarded to its engineering headquarters for development.

An awareness campaign will also be carried out with fishermen to use mobile apps for more precise weather forecasting.

On safety knowledge, Abdul Rahman said courses were held every year at the Fisheries Academy in Chendering, Terengganu.

“In 2019, one such series was held from Sept 21 to 23.”

He said more such courses would be held.

“The Fisheries Department will organise in-situ courses based on demand.

“Usually the safety aspect is one that will be included during training of outboard engine maintenance.

“In 2019, a total of five such courses were conducted, with one exhibition programme, namely the Selangor Agrofest 2019 held in Kuala Selangor, displaying information on safety at sea.

“Two other series of in-situ courses were held at Sepang Besar and Tangkah in 2019, ” he added.

Though these courses could not be carried out last year as planned due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Abdul Rahman hoped there would be better response once they could be held again.

On insurance protection, he said those with valid fishing licences and registered with their area’s fishermen associations were entitled to insurance policies for a fee.

This comes under the Fisheries Development Authority (LKIM) that works closely with fishermen’s associations.

LKIM’s 2019 bulletin stated that the fishermen’s insurance scheme was first introduced in May 2012.

A premium of RM100 per year is deducted from their subsistence allowance to pay for the insurance.

The policy covers fishermen between the ages of 18 and 80. Contributing fishermen are protected up to a sum of RM155,000.

From 2018 to 2019, as many as 45,163 fishermen had subscribed to this insurance policy.

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