17 May 2006


Barge Damages Sipadan

A huge barge - carrying building materials, a bulldozer and a crane - has crashed into the reef at Sipadan. The accident is said to have damaged hundreds of square meters of the reef.

All diving operators and resorts had to leave the island of Sipadan on environmental grounds a couple of years ago: so what was the barge doing there?

According to Andrea and Antonella Ferrari, authors of A divers' guide to Underwater Malaysia Macrolife,
"The damage is incalculable — one of Sipadan’s most precious and beloved spots, well-known the world over, is no more, transformed by a single inexplicable act of human carelessness into a grisly mass of broken and pulverised corals, shredded turtles and mounds of grey gravel suffocating what little is left of the legendary drop-off."

The barge was anchored next to the drop-off. Sipadan is a limestone pinnacle rising from 600 m. It is not far from the East coast of Sabah, Malaysia.

Source: Fins Magazine

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The owner of the barge that decimated the reef of Sipadan should be heavily fined and the money used to repair the reef which will take many years. All travel to Sipadan should be halted for 2 years.
The relevant Sabah governemt body has a lots to explain before it shifts the blame soley onto the owner of the barge. It is published in the local paper(and the tourism ministry disclosed for the first time that)the state goverment has given a contract to the main contractor of the barge owner to a build a RM5.0 million structure on the island. Surely the contract must have stipulated what are building materials to used and the mode of their transportation. Why don't the government body just come clean and tell the true?
I am a local Sabahan from Kota Kinabalu who is a qualified dive master. I have been a diver since the age of 15 and have also worked with a dive operator from time to time on a freelance basis to help him with groups. I have been fish bombed twice and the closest was some 100meters away from me near Manukan Island and it was an experince that has stopped me diving all together because of the problems I now have with damage to my ear drums.

Let me give you a different perspective of what exactly is going on as many of you are only just touching on the surface of the entire issue of the barge and Sipadan.

Sabah Parks, as you all know manage all of the National Parks of Sabah (land and sea) and report to the Minister of Tourism and the environment.

Essentially, the director of Sabah Parks must seek the approval of the Minister of Tourism BEFORE any projects are allowed to proceed and/or need his approval for the release of funds for any project.

Now, the main problem as I see it comes back to a lax attitude by Sabah Parks in many areas, more so when it comes to Enforcement.

They simply do not have the resources and the will to do any enforcing and its a long standing problem that the entire dive community is very well aware of.

Rampant fishing with nets and fish bombings have been occuring right at the Sabah Park's doorsteep for YEARS in the Tengku Abdul Rahman Park (and still continue) which is located right infront of their HQ in down town Kinabalu.

Lets not even talk about the illegal fishing and bombings on the East Coast of Sabah.

Sabah Parks has been aware for all these years of what has been going on but there has been little initiative on their part and both the state and federal government's of Malaysia to take responsibility and to do something about enforcement.

Of course there are the petty speeches and public relationshs garbs from time to time for the press about how serious the State government was intent on putting a stop to fish bombing and enforcement of all the parks but the truth of the matter is, they have been extremely lax, lazy and just not bothered.

This is the Malaysian attitude that we hear about from time to time; the "tidak apa" attitude which quite frankly STINKS.

I am a Malaysian but I am embarrassed to admit that this whole mess could have been avoided in the first place.

There simply is no enforcement. Most, if not all the Sabah Park boats are either out of action, old and in need of dire repair or are just not being maintained or replaced. And then there is the lax local attitude of not enforcing bans on fishing and of course regular patrols both day and night of the park waters.

Why on earth a barge of that size was even allowed to enter Sipadan water's is beyond me. Any diver with half a brain will tell you how shallow the water's are close to the jetty.

The problem lies also sadly in government beauracy (error in spelling); the wrong people appointed to make decisions who have no interest in the environment, the responsibilties they serve and the will to ensure their staff conduct themselves as professionally and as effective as possible to enforce park law's both day and night with the resources and training they so deserve.

There have been rumors even before this episode of a corporate company taking over Sipadan from Sabah Parks and managing all diving activities for the Island, including a crazy increase in dive fees that would have seen an increase in prices across the board for both local and foreign divers.

Now, the barge was carrying material for the building of a new restaurant and new dive shop as well as other tourist related facilities.

The whole point of all the dive operator's being removed in the first place was:

1) to protect all citizen's from foreign border crossings and to avoid a repeat of the 2002-2003 kidnappings at night

2) to protect the environmental and sewage issues relating to the chalet's and rubbish from the dive operator owned resorts ON THE ISLAND.

The government essentially gave all the dive operator's a short period of time to relocate and gave the reasons above for such a move. You can conduct your own research for press releases on this and I am sure there are such material's available online. I ask you to refer to :Daily Express Sabah

Now, quietly, we find development being done WITHOUT the knowledge of the Chief Minister of Sabah.

Essentially, someone has been up to some nonsense here. Its either the Minister of Tourism and Environment or the Director of Sabah Parks.

Why kick out the dive operator's but then, quietly, after 2-3 years, go back in and start developing again?

Now, I am in no position to say what the Minister of Tourism or the Director of Sabah Parks intended to do once the delevopment was completed but it has been no big secret that this development was being done by a company that has close links with the Minister of Tourism and that they intended to sign a long term lease with Sabah Parks to manage the Island.

This is how we do things in Sabah.

Sad. But, true.
The barge operator has been given a contract to build tourist facilities such as toilets and restaurants on the island (source: Malaysian National News Agency).

When the Deputy Chief Minister of Sabah (who is also Tourism, Environment and Culture Minister) was asked how the barge could sail to the protected island, he said the contractor who was involved in the project was not given any approval by Sabah Parks to use such a huge vessel to transport the building materials or equipment.

Asked whether the contract would be terminated, he said:

"We have to wait and see... the contractor has been very cooperative and has admitted the faults."

Not, I suspect, what divers around the world wanted to hear.
Since the original report, things have calmed down, The damage affect about 0.1% of Sipadan's Reef, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund:


In terms of the diving therefore, not much has changed. Serious questions remain about the building work.
According to a comment on the Diving Board - http://www.scubatravel.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?t=524 - "Prior to the damage the island usually afforded year round diving, but Barracuda back to the pier was the usual bad weather dive side. With this side of the island damaged the bad weather will make the other two sides of the island periodically undivable."
i think we need to put allot of international pressure on the Malaysian government to get this sorted out, and stop any further development of the facilities being built on the island.
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