Cabotage policy for submarine cable repair vital against data threats

Malaysia Shipowner’s Association (MASA) chairman Datuk Abdul Hak Md Amin

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

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

“We have our own (digital) sovereignty to look into (even if) 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 if we have our own maintenance vessels, then our data security is protected during repair, ” he said during an interview on the nation’s cabotage policy with Astro Awani yesterday 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 last November.

Reiterating that cabotage policy did not mean foreign-flagged vessels were 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 was depriving Malaysia of foreign high-value digital direct investment, Abdul Hak said it should not be an issue as a country’s cabotage policy was 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 should be an issue here as it will be part of risk assessment, ” 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 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 could 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 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 had 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 last Nov 15.

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