Early investigations into the tourist boat that sank in a deadly accident on Chinese New Year has already uncovered one offence committed by its operator.
Sabah Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming confirmed that the catamaran carrying 27 Chinese nationals had departed from a jetty in Tanjung Aru that was only meant for local villagers and not for tourist use.
“We will wait for the investigation to know whether there were elements of negligence. But the use of the jetty almost for sure (is) illegal,” he said.
“There are only three designated jetties for tourism use: the Jesselton pier, and two others in Sutera Harbour resort and Shangri-la Tanjung Aru resort.
“Any other jetties are not meant for tourism use,” he said when met at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu on Tuesday (Jan 31).
Mr Pang said he did not know why the catamaran operator used the village jetty but believed it could be to avoid paying additional fees.
He also suspects the boatman may have wanted to avoid regulations normally governing tourism practices such as passenger capacity and safety equipment.
“Because it is a ‘kampung’ jetty, there is no need to station any authorities there,” he added.
His state ministry is also investigating the incident that led to the catamaran capsizing and the death of three of the Chinese tourists on Jan 28, the first day of the Lunar New Year celebration.
The catamaran had left the jetty at 9am heading to Mengalum island but hit bad weather and sank some 8 nautical miles (nm) before reaching its destination.
Of the 27 aboard, three died and 22 were rescued. Five are still missing.
The search is now in its fourth day. A multi-agency operation involving some 20 sea and air vessels have been deployed to find the remaining four Chinese tourists and one local boat man.
The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency’s Kota Kinabalu district director First Admiral Adam Aziz said that the search area has widened from 1,400nm yesterday to 3,000 nautical miles today.
The incident has cast a spotlight on the questionable practices by tour companies who specialise in bookings from Chinese tourists.
Mr Pang said that the passengers on board were FITs, or independent travellers who did not book through a tour package.
“We know that 23 of the tourists made their booking online through Chau Nature Tours while about five went through Golden Sailing,” he said.
Mr Pang said that he will lead a committee to look at the marine tourism practices in the state.
“We will look at the weaknesses, and overhaul the marine tourism practices. I will call all the agencies involved in marine tourism to sit with experienced operators and fix or address what needs to be done,” he said. MALAY MAIL ONLINE