KOTA KINABALU, Feb 1 — A tour operator in Sabah who has been using one of the “illegal” jetties to ferry passengers to islands for years claimed today to have permission from state tourism authorities to do so.
Borneo Proboscis Destination manager Tang Yeu said his tour company had a joint agreement with the villagers for the sole rights to use the jetty, situated some 100m from the jetty that was used by the catamaran that crashed some four days ago, killing at least three tourists.
Tanjung Aru Baru village community leader Matsah Sahat said that the villagers had applied for permission to use the jetty from the Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, with the support of the Agriculture and food industries Datuk Seri Yahya Hussin, who is also deputy chief minister.
“We were given a permission letter from the minister, Datuk Masidi to use this jetty for tourists,” said Matsah.
When asked by reporters to show the letter, he said he had it in his home and was not able to produce it on the spot.
Later, a photo of the letter was made available to Malay Mail Online, showing a letter signed by the permanent secretary of the State Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry Ginun Yangus stating that the ministry had no objections to the villagers’ use and cooperation with the tour company, under conditions.
The use of unsanctioned tourist jetties has come under the spotlight after a boat trip to Mengalum island, some two hours away, arranged by licensed operators through the illegal jetty had capsized and landed 28 Chinese passengers plus three crew members, in the sea.
So far, 22 people have been rescued, three have died and six — five Chinese nationals and one local boatman — are still missing.
Yesterday, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming said that the jetty used by the tour operator was illegal and there were only three tourist sanctioned take off points — Jesselton Pier, the Sutera Harbour Marina and Shangri La Tanjung Aru Resort
Authorities, including the police, are investigating the tour companies’ operations and three persons — the boat owner, the skipper and a crewmember — who may be liable for negligence plus other offenses.
According to Matsah, the tour company pays RM1,000 a month to the committee for the use of the jetty, and employs some 15 locals to work as boatmen and security guards, as stipulated by the agreement for community development purposes.
“We do enjoy using the jetty for tourism purposes. We’ve even had international TV crews and the Amazing Race use our jetty as part of their race,” he said.
He said local fishermen do not require the use of the jetty so much as they could sail their boat anywhere in the water village so the jetty was primarily serving tourists.
“But we are complying with the law. I have the letter to say we have permission, but if they say we cannot use it anymore, so be it,” he said.
Tang Yeu said that he had about five boats plying that jetty, some making more than one trip per day, to the nearby Tunku Abdul Rahman islands.
When asked why he had chosen to use the jetty, despite its status, he said that the company had complied with safety issues including passenger load, and life jackets, and invested in keeping the jetty well maintained and locals employed.
“There’s also the fact that the islands are much closer — Mamutik is only five minutes away, compared to 25 minutes away from Jesselton Pier. Cutting time out at sea is a safety precaution.
“It is not about saving money from paying fees. Our tourists like using this jetty, they get to go through the local village, and it is not congested like at Jesselton,” he said.
Tang Yeu said that overloading of passengers also happened at Jesselton Pier, and he was vigilant about keeping safety standards, including using an engineering consultant to check on it.
“We have been trying to legalise this jetty,” he said, adding that he had submitted plans to the City Hall for approval.
Earlier, Kota Kinabalu mayor Datuk Yeo Boon Hai paid a site visit to the two jetties, confiscating several benches and planks, and sealing off the landing points to make it unsuitable for tourist purpose.
“As far as we know, this jetty was built by the Fisheries Development Board of Malaysia (LKIM) for the local villagers to use. Part of it is legal, while the extension is not.
“The other jetty (used by the ill-fated boat) is a legal structure under City Hall but both are not sanctioned for tourists,” he said.