‘Quality of repairs to be upheld’

PUTRAJAYA: Telecommunications service providers and data centres here can be assured that the quality of subsea data cable maintenance will be upheld even when Malaysian cable vessels are given priority over foreign ones following the revocation of the cabotage exemption, said the Malaysia Shipowners’ Association (Masa).

At a press conference here, Masa chairman Datuk Abdul Hak Md Amin said the revocation did not mean that foreign-flagged vessels were prohibited from entering Malaysian waters to perform maintenance jobs.

“In fact, there was a request on Tuesday and after checking, our members confirmed that we have no available ships.

“Following that, a foreign ship will come in and I believe the electronic domestic shipping licence (eDSL) will be issued within days, ” he said.Despite Malaysian vessels being given priority, Abdul Hak said there would still be competition in terms of pricing as foreign vessels could still offer their services.

“The public needs to understand that Masa does not give any approval. When there is a request, Masa will check whether our members have any available vessels and if they don’t, foreign vessels can come in.“If there is a Malaysian ship available, we will relay the information and the parties involved will negotiate the price, ” he told the press conference, which was also attended by Masa secretary-general Shaharuzzaman Baharum and exco member James Ong.

The cabotage exemption previously allowed foreign vessels to carry out undersea communications cable repair works without having to apply for domestic shipping licensing exemption.

The exemption was given by former transport minister Anthony Loke following requests by telecommunication companies such as TIME dotCom Bhd and Telekom Malaysia Bhd.

The matter was supported by the Communications and Multimedia Ministry with the aim of speeding up cable maintenance work.

But the exemption was revoked by Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong effective Nov 15 to boost the capacity and capability of the domestic shipping industry.

The exemption also aimed to boost technical expertise through human resource development among locals as local vessels are capable of undersea cable repair works.

Abdul Hak noted that the cabotage exemption had led to a discriminatory environment where Malaysian companies were bypassed when it came to conducting such repairs in their own country.“A study conducted by Masa on cable ships globally showed that Malaysian companies own four certified cable ships, which are currently used by the industry for installation and maintenance.

“Therefore, it is unjustifiable to say that Malaysian companies are not capable of conducting subsea cable repairs, ” he said, adding that prior to Nov 15, all cable repair works in Malaysian waters were undertaken by a Singapore-registered company.

“This had a counterproductive effect in stimulating competition.

“We want to encourage a system of fair competition involving multiple providers of maintenance and supply services that work with local Malaysian solutions to create an ecosystem that encourages higher ship tonnages, employment, spin-off industries and technology investment for the telecommunication industry, ” he added.

On concerns of higher repair costs following the revocation of the cabotage exemption, he expressed confidence in the ministry’s commitment to reduce the time needed to process the application for vessels to conduct subsea cable maintenance through the eDSL system.

“The repair costs will be more competitive as the pricing is driven by competition between the maintenance zones.

“We believe the revocation will stimulate competition, ” he said, adding that the argument of possibly slower Internet speeds and services was not substantiated.

He pointed out an instance when a foreign vessel took 48 days to conduct repairs during the previous cabotage exemption, yet Malaysia did not experience any Internet service disruption.

“There are a total of 19 submarine cables with two new cables underway so when a cable is affected, traffic is rerouted, ” he added.

He said Masa was supportive of the government’s commitment to shortening the permit approval process for vessels to conduct cable repairs, and urged its members to keep up to date with the latest knowledge to capitalise on opportunities in the industry.

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