MMEA: Influx of foreigners a security threat

Hard at work: Workers sorting the catch at the Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia in Penang. — ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star

PETALING JAYA: The influx of foreigners taking over from locals as fishermen is a national security threat, says the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).

Its Maritime Criminal Investigation Division director First Admiral (M) Ahmad Faridi Ferdaus said his men had arrested several foreign fishermen for their involvement in criminal activities over the past few years.

These included activities involving drugs, contraband and possible human smuggling.

“In Selangor, we can see more Indonesian fishermen around Sekinchan, Sungai Besar and Sabak Bernam manning boats belonging to locals.

“So having their own people in the sector makes it easier for smugglers to execute their criminal activities, which include smuggling foreigners into our country,” he told The Star.

Ahmad Faridi said that besides helping to transport goods, foreign fishermen also act as “tonto laut” (sea spies) for the syndicates.

“Drug and kratom smugglers in Kedah and Perlis will use fishing boats or smaller boats to avoid suspicion. Some of the coastal fishermen will also conspire with the syndicates by providing tip-offs on enforcement,” he added.

A local fisherman who wanted to be known only as Jasuli admitted to playing a part in helping smugglers.

Like most of them, he said it was the money that enticed him.

“No, fishermen don’t do it because they earn less, they do it because it is easy money. What you have to do is go fishing – say at around 9pm until 1am – and just monitor in case enforcers are there.

“If they are, then you give the smugglers a heads-up. Otherwise, you continue fishing and leave after a few hours.

“We have different codenames for each enforcement agency. For MMEA, we say ‘torak’ (a type of squid); marine police are known as ‘cumik’ (another type of squid); and for Customs we say ‘ketam’ (crab).

“You spend RM50 for diesel but you get about RM300 or RM400 per trip,” he said, adding that he could earn more than RM2,000 then.

Jasuli said the distance between Malaysia and Indonesia from his area in Johor was not that great, about two hours by boat.

“They (Indonesian smugglers) don’t need fishermen to smuggle anything because the distance between Indonesia and Malaysia is not that far,” he added.

The situation in north Malaysia differed, said Malaysian Coastal Fishermen’s Education and Welfare Association deputy chairman Mohd Faizal Mohd Zabri.

“We have foreigners at all levels – areas that are full of foreigners are Bagan Datuk, Lumut, Kuala Sungai Busung and Sungai Piang in Perak. In Perlis, Kedah and Penang, we have the Rohingya, some of whom even claim they have identity cards.

“Personally, I don’t think we should allow foreigners to be used because they can easily help their people illegally enter Malaysia.

“In the east coast, we believe those working on locals’ boats are the ones giving information on our enforcement to Vietnamese fishermen,” he said.

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