JOHOR BARU, Oct 15 — In what can be described as a first in the country, the Johor police have embarked on an integrated operation to curb Covid-19 infections and drug abuse on boat operators in the popular holiday destination of Mersing.

The joint operation between the state police, Health Department and Marine Department, was to ensure that Mersing and its islands will be a safe destination for the public as travel restrictions have been lifted.

Johor police chief Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said since the state borders here have reopened, Mersing is expected to see an increase in visitors and tourists.

He said visitors will normally use the boat services to reach the surrounding islands and there was a need to ensure their safety.

“We want the boat operators to abide by the law, including the use of illicit drugs, that can endanger the lives of passengers and others,” said Ayob Khan during a press conference that was broadcasted live on the Johor police official Facebook last night.

Mersing is a coastal town located in southeast Johor. The town is known as the departure point for ferries and also passenger boats to nearby islands. There are 45 islands around Mersing and five have resorts. 

About 95 companies specialising in boat and ferry transportation services are based in Mersing where more than 200 boats are registered.

Ayob Khan said that the operations will also look at other aspects of enforcement such as boat operator’s license to ensure that the laws are adhered to.

“Boat operators found to have not renewed their licence for the past two years will have their license suspended by the state Marine Department,” he said, adding that the authorities will be conducting regular checks at jetties in Mersing to ensure that they comply.

This latest action by authorities follows Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar’s dismay at boat operators who were found operating their boats while being under the influence of illicit drugs last Wednesday, near the waters off Pulau Rawa in Mersing.

Following the recent incident, Sultan Ibrahim called for strict enforcement after he personally witnessed where a skipper and his assistant were operating a boat dangerously while under the influence of drugs.

“Take stern action, including revoking the boat operator’s license and confiscating boats that do not follow the law.

“Things like this are very embarrassing for the Johor tourism industry. I hope this kind of situation does not happen again,” Sultan Ibrahim reportedly said in a post on his official Facebook page on the next day.

The two male suspects, who were the skipper and assistant of the passenger boat, were immediately arrested by police on the same Wednesday after they tested positive for methamphetamine.