Under fire, Johor MB maintains right to visit disputed waters

Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian has maintained his right to last week’s maritime visit and lashed-out at his critics over the issue. — Picture Roysten Rueben
Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian has maintained his right to last week’s maritime visit and lashed-out at his critics over the issue. — Picture Roysten Rueben

JOHOR BARU, Jan 17 — Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian has defended his visit last week into the disputed waters within the Malaysia-Singapore waters that eventually caused a bilateral row and led to the postponement of the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM).

He said he was unfazed with the heavy criticisms by Singaporean leaders and also some Malaysians on the issue, calling his critics “sour grapes.”

“In fact, I received a few messages and a video via Whatsapp from several Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) division leaders and ketua kampungs (village chiefs) that gave their support to me.

“Maybe in the next few days, there will be more people that will give their support to me on the issue,” said Osman after attending the pre-launch event of the Johor International Islamic and Halal Festival 2019 at the Double Tree by Hilton here today.

Present at the event was Johor Information, Entrepreneurship Development, Cooperatives and Creative Economy Committee chairman Sheikh Umar Bagharib Ali and Johor Works, Infrastructure and Transport Committee chairman Mazlan Bujang.

Osman, who is also Johor Pakatan Harapan chairman, explained that he had received an unofficial blessing from Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and his deputy before his planned visit to the disputed waters.

“They did not stop me at all from visiting the area,” he said.

The 67-year-old Kempas assemblyman also reminded his critics that he was not only the Johor Mentri Besar, but was also the state’s security council chairman.

He said his role in the council required him to personally understand the current maritime dispute in the area.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Umar described Osman’s visit to the disputed maritime area last week as a patriotic move as a state leader.

“What the Johor Mentri Besar did was for the love of the state, country and also its sovereignty,” he said, adding that there was also no issue of provocation in this matter.

Mazlan also voiced his support of Osman’s visit, saying that there was nothing wrong with a state leader personally visiting the maritime area.

Last week, Osman visited Malaysian Marine Department vessel MV Pedoman which was anchored within Johor Baru’s new port limits, but Singapore is disputing the limits claim and has since expanded its own port limits to overlap that of Johor Baru.

In response, Singapore then postponed the 14th Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia originally scheduled on Monday, after accusing Osman of intruding into Singapore’s territorial waters.

Speaking in its Parliament earlier this week, Singaporean ministers Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and Ng Eng Hen both slammed Osman’s visit for the deteriorating situation of the disputes between the two neighbours.