DAP calls for government action to protect Pangkor Island and other Malaysian fishermen from piracy by uniformed naval personnel of neighbouring country

Speech by DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat in the debate on the Fisheries Amendment Bill on August 10, 1972

DAP calls for government action to protect Pangkor Island and other Malaysian fishermen from piracy by uniformed naval personnel of neighbouring country

We have this amendment bill in order to empower any Police Officer or Fishery Officer to stop, search and detain all vessels, vehicles, nets, instruments, fishing materials, appliances, fish or fishing stakes if they have reason to believe that an offence under the Act has been committed.

I would like to take this opportunity to raise a very grave problem of the fishermen, and I think that even more emphasis should be given to the problem of helping the fishermen from piracy in the high seas than just giving powers to the Police Officer or the Fishery Officer in order to seize the fishing gear from the fishermen as the Fisheries Act was designed to help the fishermen.

I must say that the fishermen do not feel that they have been assisted in the one area in which they needed assistance most, and this is one aspect which on the first day of this sitting we have raised-namely, piracy.

The Hon’ble Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs has outlined some of the measures of patrols, even air patrols, in order to guard our fishermen from pirate. Although on paper – over radio, television and in the press – the Minister’s statement about the various counter-measurers seemed very reassuring, but the fishermen on the western seaboard of West Malaysia, the fishermen in Pangkor Island, in Malacca and throughout the West Coast, are not reassured. For years they have been appealing for governmental assistance and protection, but apart from public pronouncements now and then, that actions are being taken, they did not get any real redress or protection.

I am sure that if the Fisheries Department or the other Government department concerned will go and meet the fishermen in Pangkor Island, for instance, or the fishermen in Malacca, they will know the plight of these fishermen. These fishermen have relied upon fishing for a livelihood but the majority of them dare not go out to sea, not because they do not want to go to sea to fish and to make a livelihood but because they are afraid of meeting these pirates and, as the Deputy Prime Minister had admitted, many of these pirates are in fact uniformed armed navy personnel of a neighboring country.

From experience, these fishermen report that they are the victims of piracy where their fishing gears, catches, nets and everything else are impounded by these pirates in return for ransom money before they could be returned. If they have no ready money, they can return later with money to claim their belongings. This is a very organized form of piracy in international waters.

The pirates detain their fishing gears, fishing nets, catches and they say: “All right, pay $2000 or $3000 ransom money. If you have no money now, you can go back and get the money and we will release these things back to you.”

And for these poor fishermen, it is not so easy to raise this big sum of money. But when they report to the Fisheries Department or to the Ministry of Home Affairs, or to the Marine Police, they are invariably reprimanded, scolded, cursed for putting themselves into such a situation. I must say that I am rather shocked that we think that the Malaysian Government is not taking up the cause of our own nationals, who are being subjected to such blatant lawlessness of piracy in the high seas.

Why? I don’t know. Is it because they fell that they prefer their own nationals and citizens to be victims of highly-organised piracy from armed uniformed naval personnel from a neighboring country?

Although the Deputy Prime Minister has given figures of only 14 such cases because of very few reported incidents of piracy, they do not represent the actual figures. As I have said, having learnt from experience that to lodge a report to the Marine Police is not to get redress but to invite more trouble and reprimand, the fishermen prefer not to lodge reports.

This is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs which the government should take steps to rectify. To the fishermen, they are not interested whether this is the responsibility of the Fisheries Department or responsibility of the Ministry of Home Affairs; they are rightly not interested because the whole problem should be handled by the Government. What they want is for the Government to come and help them.

As demonstrated only a few hours ago in this House when I asked supplementary questions on this same subject, there was a tendency for one Ministry to pass the buck to the next Ministry. The Fisheries Department says it has given the license and this is the responsibility of the security people, and the Security Department says this is the responsibility of the Fisheries Department, while year by year, thousands of fishermen are victims of high sea piracy.

So while the civil servants in the two Ministries indulge in this very interesting and intriguing game as to who is responsible, we find our fishermen suffering and living in fear.

I am sure if the Ministry concerned would just go round the Western seaboard of West Malaysia, they will find thousands of fishermen wanting to out to sea, but dare not go out, partly either because they have got some of their fishing gears in the hands of these armed, uniformed pirates, and they dare not go out because the if they go out they meet them again they will be trouble, or because they are afraid that if they go out they are going to be victims.

A good example of this is the recent case of the 50-60 fishermen from Pangkor Island. They were victims of piracy at Pulau Jerak, which is in international waters. Instead of getting assistance from the Government, the Marine Police told them “You don’t go to Pulau Jerak to fish.” And that is an area that is plentiful in fish. Why?

If Pulau Jerak is in international waters, why is our Marine Police telling our fishermen not to go there to fish and that if they go there to fish, they must face their own consequences; that if they become subject to high-sea piracies, they are not going to get any assistance.

This is not the first time that this has been raised in public. My colleague, the State Assemblyman for Lumut, Sdr. Phang Teik Hwa, has written to the Prime Minister on this, and has pressed for solution of this very urgent problem.

I do really urge the Government to take concrete action to put a stop to all these harassments and piracy on the part in particular of the uniformed naval personnel from a neighbouring country. I would suggest that the Malaysian Government and the Indonesian Government should meet in a friendly, fraternal manner to solve this very complex problem in the interest of the thousands of Malaysian fishermen in order to let them go out to sea and make a living.

As a result of this uncertainty, the price of fish throughout the country has risen, and there is a scarcity. This has also affected the pockets of the Malaysians, in particular these of the low income bracket, especially considering that fish is a very essential ingredient for a proper diet. So I urge, on behalf of the fishermen of Pulau Pangkor, that the Government should go there and find out how they can help them, how they can remove their fear so that they can go out to sea and provide them with protection by marine police if necessary, at least for the initial period.

But what the people want most is a solution, an end to this high-sea piracy and harassments. The people of Pulau Pangkor have suffered enough. There they depend largely on fishing as a living. They have suffered enough because today, not only have they become the victims of high sea pirates, they are also the victims of political pirates, like the Malaysian Wang Chin Wei – who is not here – the Member of Parliament for Sitiawan. But that is another matter. So I hope the government will help put a stop to all these piracy so that Malaysian fishermen throughout Malaysia on the western sea-board can make their living.