BENTONG: The recent catamaran tragedy in Sabah has revealed weaknesses in the enforcement of rules and regulations on tourist boat operations.
Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai (pic) said the tragedy could have been avoided if there had been no overcrowding and there was a signalling system.
“We want our enforcement to be stricter, and agencies to act quickly on traceability of a boat, so that when one leaves the jetty, it should have a signalling system. If it capsizes, we can track and call for a search and rescue quickly.
“This incident and all the possible reasons show that we do have some weakness – while we do have rules and regulations, the enforcement must be looked at,” he told reporters after attending a Chinese New Year event at the Taman Hussein flats here Wednesday.
Liow attended a total of six Chinese New Year events in Bentong, including those in Sungai Penjuring New Village, Batu 1 Jalan Tras flats, Taman Saga and Kampung Chamang.
Last Saturday, 28 Chinese tourists boarded a catamaran from a jetty in Kampung Tanjung Aru, Kota Kinabalu, which sank on the way to Pulau Mengalum.
Three people died and six remain missing. Twenty-two people, including the skipper and one of the two crewmen, were rescued.
Liow said the number of tourists and crewmen were far too high to fit into the catamaran in the first place.
“I have directed the Sabah Marine Department to aid in the investigations so that we can come up with pre-emptive measures to ensure this incident does not happen again.
“We take this tragedy seriously, also because it tainted our public image at a time when we are promoting Sabah as a tourist destination,” he said.
An average catamaran should only fit about 12 people, but the catamaran in the tragedy carried a total of 31 people.
It had also departed from a jetty that was meant only for the use of fishermen and not for tourism purposes.
Liow said small boats were generally registered at the state level and not with the federal authorities there.
“Boats below 15 tonnes are usually meant for tourism and are small ferries, which operate at the local council level.
“The ministry will work with the state government and come up with suggestions to prevent this from happening again.
“The investigation team will definitely study the cause of the accident, but one thing we need to address is the overloading problem,” he said.
Liow also called on boat operators to abide by safety rules outlined by the authorities.
“Stern action must be taken against all those who are responsible for this tragedy,” he added.