Benefits of cabotage policy for submarine cable repairs outweigh shortcomings, says shipowners’ association

PETALING JAYA: The benefits of Malaysia’s cabotage policy for submarine cable repairs outweigh the shortcomings, especially in terms of protecting the country’s digital sovereignty, says the Malaysia Shipowners’ Association (Masa).

Its chairman Datuk Abdul Hak Md Amin said that relying on foreign vessels to perform submarine cable maintenance every time is more likely to expose the country to possible data security threats.

“We have our own (digital) sovereignty to look into (and) we have our own maintenance vessels.

“What more when our cable is out and the foreign vessels that come in (to do the repair) might take possession of our secured data. We don’t know.

“But, since we have our own maintenance vessels, then our data security is protected during repairs, ” he said during an interview on the nation’s cabotage policy with Astro Awani on Monday (April 12), where he was asked on the letter from several tech giants, believed to include Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft, to the Prime Minister expressing concern over the revocation of the cabotage exemption for foreign-flagged vessels announced in November.

Reiterating the cabotage policy does not mean that foreign-flagged vessels are prohibited from coming in, Abdul Hak said the way forward should be having all local players and stakeholders cooperate and coordinate with each other to stimulate investments in vessels suited for the job.

When asked if the cabotage policy is depriving Malaysia of foreign high-value digital direct investment, Abdul Hak said it should not be an issue, as a country’s cabotage policy is only one consideration.

“Practically all countries have cabotage laws, with countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and the United States imposing even stricter conditions in limiting the number of players.

“I don’t see why it is an issue here, as it will be part of risk assessment factors, ” he said.

Asked if Malaysian vessels have the technological expertise to do the job, Abdul Hak replied in affirmative, though adding that the opportunity for local vessels was little.

“We have companies like Optic Marine Services. Technology-wise, we have the expertise, but not the opportunity, ” he said, adding that while both local and foreign vessels require the domestic shipping licence (DSL) to operate, local vessels face higher requirements.

Abdul Hak also said with the cabotage exemption, jobs that can be offered to locals would disappear, as foreign vessels would mostly hire outsiders.

“We need to be realistic and be able to sit down together and talk about cooperation, how we can work together for the country’s best benefit, ” he added.

The cabotage exemption previously allowed foreign vessels to carry out cable repair works without needing to apply for a DSL exemption.

The exemption was given by former Transport minister Anthony Loke, and was requested by telecommunication companies such as TIME dotCom Bhd and Telekom Malaysia Bhd, and supported by the Communications and Multimedia Ministry.

Abdul Hak said local vessels capable of performing submarine cable maintenance should be given preference over foreign ships, and the previous cabotage exemption has led to a discriminatory environment against Malaysian companies, where they were being bypassed for opportunities to conduct such repairs within their own country.

The exemption was revoked by Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong effective Nov 15 last year.

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