FISHERMAN Azlee Idris, 45, now doubles up as a full-time seafarer by ferrying workers to a reclamation site off Penang island’s southern coast.
His income has improved ever since reclamation for the man-made Silicon Island project began on Sept 1.
“As a seafarer, my income is stable and I feel more secure,” said the father of five.
Azlee, who passed the oral examination carried out by the Marine Department, is among the first 20 fishermen offered the free seafarer training.
After obtaining the Certificate of Competence (COC), the fishermen can now work as seafarers in national waters.
Azlee said he was lucky to be offered a job by Silicon Island Development Sdn Bhd, which was relevant to the skills he had learned from the training.
He believes that other locals and Penangites will continue enjoying spillover benefits from the project.
“My children need not venture outside for work opportunities. Silicon Island is an ideal platform for their future if they are willing to work hard,” he said.
Fisherman Samsuar Hashim, 45, is now information officer at Pusat Perkhidmatan Setempat Nelayan (PPSN) in Permatang Damar Laut.
PPSN is a one-stop information centre helping the state government identify and address issues faced by south Penang Island fishermen.
It also organises social programmes for the community’s benefit.
Samsuar said he now earned a decent income and was able to provide for his wife and four children as well as continue going out to fish after work.
“The full-time job gives me a stable monthly income instead of relying on a fisherman’s earnings, as the daily catch is uncertain.
“The Malay proverb kais pagi makan pagi, kais petang makan petang (living from hand to mouth) is true for fishermen.
“The weather also plays a big role in determining whether we will be able to haul in a good catch.
“My job as an information officer is fulfilling as we not only play a role in providing accurate and factual information to locals, but also help care for fishermen’s welfare,” said Samsuar.
He said the man-made island would bring positive impact and socio-economic change to the community and surrounding areas.
It was reported in September that some 600 marine and land-based jobs would be created when reclamation work was carried out over a 18-month period.
Priority for jobs will be given to fishermen and local residents.
The Silicon Island project is also expected to generate 220,000 jobs through direct, indirect and induced economic impact by 2050.
Former army personnel Shoib Ibrahim, 67, who has been a fisherman since 1998, said the reclamation work had not affected their fishing activities.
“I think most of the fishermen here have accepted the project and agree that it is not affecting our daily lifestyle or income,” he said.
Contrary to claims of fishermen generating over RM70,000 from their fishing activities, Shoib said they considered themselves lucky if they could earn RM2,000 a month.
“I have no idea how they arrived at this number,” he said.
According to the June 2022 Social Impact Assessment addendum, the average estimated monthly income of fishermen is only RM1,440.90.
“I also disagree with claims that fish supply has dwindled.
“If fishermen want more, they can go further out at sea where there are plenty of fishes and prawns,” said Shoib.
He recently received a new shed from Penang government, built along Sungai Bayan Lepas, for him to store fishing nets and equipment.
Mohd Azril Yaakob, 37, and his friend Al-Hafiz Mohamad, 35, are among the younger generation working as full-time fishermen near Silicon Island.
Mohd Azril said although they could not go near the reclamation area to fish, they could fish elsewhere.
“The project developer has committed to providing a navigation channel allowing fishermen 24-hour access to the sea regardless of the tide,” he said.
“Reclamation does not mean there are no more fish or prawns.
“Marine animals do not stay put. They move around.”
Echoing Mohd Azril’s view, Al-Hafiz said the new, bigger boat with higher capacity engine provided by the state government would help them go further out to the sea to net a catch.
Permatang Tepi Laut fishermen unit deputy chief Rosli Yusoff, 65, is grateful to the state government for keeping its promise, when reclamation work started, to help fishermen.
“There are about 700 families in Kampung Permatang Damar Laut here, and most of them are receptive to the project.
“They know that the reclamation project developer will ensure that the villagers’ well- being is cared for,” he said adding that villagers had been assured that locals would be given priority for any business and job opportunities.
Rosli is also confident that his children and grandchildren will benefit from the job opportunities expected to be generated from the project.
“The project developer has started hiring locals and fishermen to fill up vacancies, and engage local business owners such as caterers for their events,” he said.
The project secured the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) approval from the Penang Department of Environment (DOE) on July 21, before reclamation works began on Sept 1.
Besides the EMP approval, the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for the reclamation project was approved with 71 conditions on April 11.
Penang government has since given out ex-gratia payments in phases to fishermen who signed up for the Social Impact Management Plan (SIMP).
Those involved have received 75% of the ex-gratia payment, with the 25% balance to be given out early next year.
Penang infrastructure, transport and digital economy committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said that about 1.5ha had been reclaimed as at Dec 3.
He, however, said the land on the man-made island was not stable for the construction of buildings yet.
He said the first land parcel in Green Tech Park, which is the main development of the Silicon Island, was expected to be ready in 2025.
“The first phase of reclamation work involves 510ha and will be completed in 2027.
“Common infrastructure will start in the second half of 2024 and the first piece of industrial land will be handed over by the end of 2025.
“This will happen concurrently with the remaining reclamation work,” he elaborated.
Touted as the economic catalyst and new tourism attraction for Penang, the project’s planned developments include the Green Tech Park (GTP) and Heart of the Island (Hoti) business district to attract high-impact investments.
The reclamation effort in two phases will take between 10 and 15 years to complete.
The GTP will feature research and design facilities, digital technology infrastructure, ecommerce and business process outsourcing.
Hoti, on the other hand, has been planned as a waterfront commercial hub which will serve as the pulse of the island.
Silicon Island Development Sdn Bhd, which is 70% owned by SRS PD Sdn Bhd, has awarded the design, management and construction of Phase 1 reclamation works of Island A to turnkey contractor SRS TC Sdn Bhd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gamuda Bhd.
The reclamation project was originally designed to fund part of the Penang Transport Master Plan, which includes the Pan Island Link and light rail transit (LRT) projects.
But with the Federal Government fully funding the LRT project from Bayan Lepas to Tanjung Bungah, the Penang South Island project was scaled down by 49%, with Island B (566ha) and Island C (324ha) shelved indefinitely.
Only Island A, or “Silicon Island”, will be reclaimed.