MMEA faces huge challenge in curbing smuggling activities in Tawau

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency in Port Klang January 14, 2017. — Picture by Dawn Chin
The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency in Port Klang January 14, 2017. — Picture by Dawn Chin

TAWAU, Oct 7 — The Tawau Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) faces a huge challenge in addressing smuggling activities in Tawau waters, says its director Romli Mustafa.

According to him, the Malaysia-Indonesia maritime border, which could be crossed in 20 minutes using a speedboat was a factor which caused the high number of smuggling cases.

“Geographically, (the distance between) Sungai Nyamuk in Indonesia and Kampung Titingan here is only four miles, and to reach Tawau, Malaysia, it only takes 10 to 20 minutes.

“The perpetrators have made it a trend to do quick smuggling, with the sender (from Indonesia) waiting for the signal from the receiver (in Malaysia) such as a green light (signalling a ‘line clear’),” he said when met at his office here.

Romli said the deliveries, which usually took place during the night or early morning, made it difficult for enforcement officers to catch the speedboats.

“During the night, it’s confusing because at sea there are many lights coming from other boats and the perpetrators are cunning, and make use of the opportunity,” he said.

According to him, there were many settlements over water in Tawau, and the houses were also used by smugglers as hotspots to land smuggled goods, especially cigarettes.

“These jockeys are believed to keep these smuggled goods under the houses, and enforcement vessels cannot even enter the area,” he said, explaining that the boats the jockeys used were lightweight and small.

Smugglers he said, often used the services of experienced jockeys who knew the ins and outs of Tawau waters, and had good networking with recipients.

“The jockeys bring items of high value, but it is believed the items do not belong to them because they just send it from point A to point B, with a one-time delivery charge of RM1,000. The higher the risk, the higher they are paid,” he said, adding that most of the jockeys were either Indonesians or Filipinos.

Romli said in the event MMEA managed to catch up with one of the boats, the jockeys would plunge into the water and swim to the water villages.

“If we enter (one of) the villages, the bridge has many exit routes, making it confusing,” he said.

The MMEA, he said, also faced challenges from ‘spies’ who tracked the movements of enforcement officers at sea.

“This very short crossing time is used by smugglers, and we cannot just remain in one area, as Tawau waters comprise a vast area.

“We are constantly looking for the recipe to curb smuggling activities which are detrimental to the country,” he said.

Meanwhile, Romli said as of yesterday, there had been 24 smuggling cases brought to court this year, involving cooking gas tanks, cigarettes, and migrants.

“The boats we detain are often slow, and the skipper often takes a gamble, including hiding the smuggled goods with legitimate ones.

“When the skipper is stopped, he tries his best to explain to the law enforcement officer that the goods being carried are in accordance with the law,” he said, adding that the department worked closely with the Marine Police to keep Tawau waters free from smuggling activities.

The effort could be improved further, he said, if there were proper checking systems in place at jetties, including private ones.

Romli also urged the public to channel information on illegal activities as well as emergency situations at sea by contacting MERS 999 or the Tawau Maritime Operations Centre at 089-752115. — Bernama

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