The man who is alleged to have helped in Chew Eng Han’s failed boat escape from Singapore owns a fish farm off Pulau Ubin, and is a familiar face in the boatman community.
Tan Poh Teck, 53, was on Thursday (Feb 22) charged with abetting ex-City Harvest Church member Chew’s attempted illegal departure by taking him on his fishing boat bound for Malaysia.
On Thursday morning, reporters took a 10-minute boat ride from the Pulau Ubin jetty to Tan’s farm and was greeted by two men.
One of them, who only wanted to be known as Mr Yong, claimed to be Tan’s friend and confirmed that Tan owned the 5,000-sqm farm.
“I don’t want to get involved in anything,” the 50-year-old said, initially reluctant to talk about the case.
Mr Yong, however, opened up when speaking about Tan personally.
“If you go to all the farms here, and you go to Changi Point to ask the old uncles driving the boats, they will know him well,” he said.
Organised groups that kayaked off Ubin would also hire Tan to use his vessel as a safety boat, as per regulations, Mr Yong said. It is understood that Tan was supposed to go for a similar job the day he was arrested.
When asked how business had been at the fish farm, Mr Yong said it was sufficient for a basic livelihood.
“If you want to make big money, I’m not sure,” he added. “If it’s just for your expenses, you still can survive. Maybe you get a cheap car, cigarettes and food for the fish. But you must be hardworking too.”
It seemed to be business as usual at the farm. Two dogs lazed beside barrels, batteries and boat equipment. Rows of criss-crossing wooden walkways created mini ponds, where fish were kept in underwater nets.
ILLEGAL TO GO FROM UBIN TO MALAYSIA
Back on Ubin, reporters spoke to three boatmen who regularly ply the Singapore-Ubin route. All were aware that it was illegal to ferry someone from Ubin to Malaysia.
“You will get caught,” one of them said.
“Our boats can only go from jetty to jetty; we can’t go out to sea,” said Ah Sooi, 74.
The veteran boatman, who has been ferrying people to Ubin for 40 years, said police cameras are everywhere. “You can’t run,” he said. “Even if you go behind Ubin at night, they will know.”
However, Ah Sooi said, around five or six boatmen on Ubin still organise fishing trips off Pulau Tekong. But the number of such requests has fallen because of rising costs and a dwindling catch, he added.
Still, the boatmen recognised that the only way to get to Malaysia from the area was from Changi Point Ferry Terminal. Travellers would have to get their passports stamped at Changi before hopping on a ferry to Penggerang in Johor.
When asked about Tan, Ah Sooi said he had been in the business for at least a decade. Tan would rear fish at his farm and sell it on the mainland, according to Ah Sooi. He would also deliver food to Ubin.
“Everyone here knows him,” Ah Sooi added. “I see him every day.”