Saturday, May 20, 2006

Sipadan: Full probe ordered

KOTA KINABALU: Furious that corals the size of at least two tennis courts were damaged at Sipadan island, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman has ordered a full probe.

Musa is taking Sabah Parks to task for allowing a barge laden with construction material to dock at the island, knowing very well that it was an environmentally sensitive area.

"I have suspended all construction work on the island. Sabah Parks has failed in carrying out its duties. They have been entrusted to look after the island and should monitor all activities there.

"I am instructing a full probe. This should not have happened and it is unacceptable. I want Sabah Parks to submit their report to me as soon as possible," said Musa, clearly angered by the incident, at his office in Wisma Innoprise yesterday.

And the Chief Minister is in the dark as to how the project was approved.

"It was reported in the media that the project for the construction of several facilities is worth RM5 million. In May last year, a proposal was submitted to me for a RM2.6 million project to build some facilities there.

"I asked the then Finance Ministry permanent secretary to check and brief me further, but I never heard anything again until I read reports about destruction at Sipadan," he said.

Musa said, to the best of his knowledge, the project was initiated by the Tourism, Environment and Culture Ministry through Sabah Parks.

He said he would be calling Minister Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat to clarify the matter.

Chong was quoted as saying that a company had been awarded a contract to build a central rest area on the island for day-trippers and quarters for park rangers, and that it had been approved by the State Government.

The issue came to light when it was reported in several dailies that a section of corals near three popular dive sites — the "Drop Off", "Barracuda Point" and "Turtle Cavern" — were smothered by gravel.

Musa said Sabah was serious about protecting the island and that was why it had instructed operators to vacate it last year.

He also disclosed that the contractor concerned was Kumpulan Surati Sdn Bhd.

Sipadan was at the centre of a tussle between Malaysia and Indonesia until the International Court of Justice at The Hague declared that it belonged to Malaysia.

News of the damage of the corals has been splashed across dive-orientated websites and forums as far as Britain and Australia.

The dive community is shocked and dismayed at the incident and are questioning authorities on their negligence in allowing such a tragedy to befall one of the world’s best dive sites.

International photojournalist Andrea Ferrari blogged an entry on a Singapore-based dive magazine highlighting the incident and described in detail what he saw and felt.

The Italian, who has dived on Sipadan countless times in the past 15 years, said it was heartbreaking to see the damage caused by the barge’s steel hull which wiped out hundreds of years of nature’s work.

"The damage is incalculable — one of Sipadan’s most precious and beloved spots is no more — transformed by a single inexplicable act of human carelessness into a grisly mass of broken and pulverised corals."

English underwater photographer, Alex Mustard, said that the damage was limited to a small section of Sipadan "about the size a couple of tennis courts" and all the other dive sites on Sipadan remain undamaged.

"The positives I hope that come out of this accident are that far more care is exercised when any development is planned for the island — and hopefully no further development is planned," he commented.

Courtesy of New Straits Times

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