JOHOR BARU: Around 100 vessels a day have been seen anchoring illegally in eastern Johor waters from Jan 10 to March 24, says the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).
The agency has launched a 10-day operation to crack down on the violation starting Wednesday (March 24).
Its director-general Maritime Admiral Datuk Mohd Zubil Mat Som said about half of those ships were registered in Singapore.
"We received 12 complaints from the Marine Department from Jan 10 to March 24 about the illegal anchoring of the vessels.
"We believe that the vessels were anchored illegally in the area as a way to cut losses amid slow business due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"This includes avoiding paying anchoring fees or the cost of moving from one point to another. Illegal anchoring is seen as an easy way out for these vessels," he told a press conference at the Johor MMEA headquarters on Thursday (March 25).
He added that the vessels included passenger, cargo and tanker ships.
Mohd Zubil said the agency had launched the 10-day "Ops Jangkar Haram" on Wednesday (March 24) to crack down on the vessels violating the laws of Malaysian territorial waters.
He said MMEA expected to clear the area of these vessels by the end of the operation.
"We will have our helicopters communicating with the vessels in the area, warning them to leave immediately.
"However, if they fail to leave the area within four hours, we will have our Special Task and Rescue Force (PTK) seize the vessels," he added.
Mohd Zubil also said compounds will no longer be issued for the violations during this special operation.
"Instead, we will have the case brought to court directly where higher penalties could be imposed," he said.
He noted that at least five vessels had been seized under Section 49B(1) of the Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952 for anchoring without permission from the Marine Department in the first two days of the operation.
"We are looking to seize five vessels each day throughout the operation," he said.
He added that 24 vessels had been impounded in Johor waters since January this year for illegal anchoring.