Friday, May 19, 2006

Brief Sipadan closure option

Kota Kinabalu: Sipadan will be closed to the public indefinitely if this is necessary to restore damaged corals at the world famous diving site.

A furious Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat said Thursday the authorities had not anticipated that a steel barge would be used by the contractor awarded the RM5 million project to build amenities on the island.

The barge, which was found anchored at Sipadan, had scraped clean the pristine corals at one section of the island.

"I will initiate such closure indefinitely if it becomes necessary and if people say this is needed to restore the originality of the corals in the island," said Chong. The barge had tonnes of building materials, bulldozer and heavy machinery.

"We are not going to bulldoze the island or any trees," said Chong, who is also Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister. Calling the contractor "irresponsible", he said he had asked Sabah Parks to take action but not to the extent of cancelling the contract.

Explaining, he said the Government, through State Ministry of Finance, had awarded the contract to the contractor to build basic infrastructure such as toilets, rest house and other amenities for tourists heading to the island for scuba diving.

"We need a restaurant to cater to divers numbering 120 each day, we need a place for visitors to rest and drink," said Chong, revealing that the project was to be implemented in stages within two to three years.

According to him, the contractor had no approval to go to the island with a barge and that what was approved was only a motor-launch to transport construction materials.

Earlier, Chong launched the Crafts Exotica 2006, Sabah World Museum Day 2006 and Children's Discovery Centre at the State Museum here.

He said the day it happened, the Parks officer in-charge on the island was called to Kota Kinabalu for a meeting, leaving other park rangers at the island.

Chong said he was told the park rangers were caught by surprise and could not stop the barge because it just turned up on the island.

No matter how little the damage, the damage has been done, he lamented, pointing to the fact that the incident was splashed across the globe via the Internet, including by bloggers.

"The contractor has admitted to the mistake and has been cooperating with the authorities," he said, adding that Sabah Parks has also sent in officers to assess the damage to the corals.

Source: Daily Express

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