MALAYSIA can use existing laws to tackle the issue of vessels illegally anchored in its waters, says an expert.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Marine Technology Centre research fellow Prof Omar Yaakob said the Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952 as well as the Environmental Quality Act 1974 could be used if a ship was found polluting Malaysian waters.
However, he said Malaysia should strengthen its capacity of related agencies to stamp out the problem.
“The focus should be on empowering our maritime agencies to carry out enforcement, ” he added.
Last year, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency took legal action against 25 vessel operators for being illegally anchored in Malaysian waters, while 24 others were ordered to move from their location for similar offences.
Prof Omar said although Malaysian waters were vast, the country has an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as prescribed by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and governed by the Exclusive Economic Zone Act 1984.
Malaysia’s EEZ covers 334,671km, including much of the southern area of the South China Sea.
“Our enforcement is over-stretched as not only do they have to look out for illegally anchored ships, but also safeguard our borders.
“Their assets should be upgraded and increased to help them carry out enforcement more effectively, ” he said.
Prof Omar added that there were many reasons why ships were anchored illegally in Malaysian waters, including the global economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Companies that own merchant ships have to lay off their workers, leading to insufficient crew or even decommission their ship as they are no longer able to operate, ” he said.