Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sabah plans new rules on sea salvage after WWII wreck controversy

KOTA KINABALU: New rules and guidelines for salvaging in Sabah will be introduced following a massive controversy over the removal of three World War II shipwrecks in Usukan Bay here.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun conceded that the controversy was “not a good first time experience”, but that authorities could learn from the mistakes moving forward.

“To prevent a similar incident in the future, we will get the experts to lay down some ground rules. Each application will be vetted by all the ministries involved, and will involve my ministry via the permanent secretary.

“The exploration license issued by the Sabah Museum has to be followed up by report before any salvaging or removal works can be carried out,” he said, adding that the historical value and other welfare has to be taken into consideration before such a decision can be made.

The issue made global headlines when the tourism and diving industry complained that three World War II shipwrecks, about half an hour boat ride from Kuala Abai here, have almost disappeared from uncontrolled salvaging.

The Japanese cargo vessels ? Kokusei Maru, Higane Maru and Hiyori Maru ? sank off the coast of Sabah in 1944 along with the crew, and later became popular dive sites and fishing spots for locals.

Tourism Malaysia diving advisor Clement Lee estimated that the removal of the wrecks have cost the state some RM2 million in potential tourism receipts per year.

“The World War II shipwrecks were definitely an attraction to Sabah. It is irreplaceable,” he said.