GEORGE TOWN: Maintenance dredging of Penang Port is under investigation after a dredger was spotted leaving the harbour waters with a thick sediment plume behind it a day before tens of thousands of fish died in Teluk Bahang.
State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said he called for an immediate investigation after a fisherman lodged a police report on Tuesday after seeing the dredger at work and leaving northwards from the island with a sediment plume.
“Maintenance dredging is necessary, but the contractor is under strict rule to dump the dredged material seven nautical miles (13km) from our north channel and six nautical miles (11km) from Mukah Head where strong currents will disperse the material into the Andaman Sea, ” he said yesterday.
He said that port concessionaire Penang Port Sdn Bhd (PPSB), Department of Environment (DoE) and the Marine Department would investigate the operations immediately and a meeting is scheduled next week to study the data.
Phee said by using the Dredging-Dumping Monitoring System, authorities are able to track dredgers to make sure they only open their hull doors to dump their load when they reach the prescribed destination.
Penang Port’s maintenance dredging is done yearly to maintain the draft around its various docks at depths of 11m to 12m.
Using a ship called a suction hopper dredger, which has an arm that can reach the seabed and suck up sediment like a vacuum cleaner, the contractor fills the ship and dumps the dredged material far out to sea.
In the Tuesday police report lodged by Bagan Ajam Fishermen Association chairman Mazlan Abdul, 51, he claimed that fishermen in his unit spotted a dredger working near North Butterworth Container Terminal and then travelling northwards from Penang island while leaving a sediment plume behind at 4pm on Thursday.
He expressed worry in his report that the sediment trailing off the dredger was polluting the sea.
On the following Friday evening, the tail winds of Typhoon Lekima flayed the sea off Teluk Bahang causing strong waves that scientists believe stirred up sediment which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of wild fish and also fish being farmed in floating cages.
Mazlan reported that the fishermen took a video of the ship and the trail of sediment.
The video, showing the ship sailing with the north coast of Penang island in the background, is being circulated on social media. A plume of murky sediment is visible in the video.
Meanwhile, Eastern and Oriental Bhd, through its subsidiary Tanjung Pinang Development Sdn Bhd, confirmed that the company’s dredger had stopped sending dredged materials to Mukah Head (the approved dumpsite from DoE) since Jan 20 last year.
A spokesman from the company said the dredged materials were found to be suitable for use in the Gurney Drive reclamation site and this is allowed by the authorities.