SEMPORNA, June 26 — The Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry will ensure that the coral reefs in the waters off Mabul Island here, which have been damaged after being hit by a barge carrying construction materials yesterday, undergo a restoration process.
Its Minister, Datuk Jafry Ariffin, said divers from Sabah Parks and the Fisheries Department had been instructed to conduct an initial damage assessment, and then plan a restoration programme for the damaged coral reefs.
“Apart from assessing the level of damage, a preliminary restoration process will also be implemented immediately, to reposition the damaged coral reefs so that they can survive. The barge has been removed from the coral reef,” he said in a statement here today.
Yesterday, the media reported that the coral reefs in the popular diving area known as Paradise One in Mabul Island, were damaged after being hit by the barge.
Jafry said that it was understood that the barge was carrying construction materials to build the forward operations base (FOB) of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom).
“Based on the records at the Department of Environmental Protection (JPAS), the project was approved for the Proposed Mitigation Measures Report (PMM Report) on Feb 8, and an investigation will be carried out as to whether there is a violation of the conditions of the PMM approval issued,” he said.
He said that as the area involved is not protected, either under the Sabah Parks or the Sabah Wildlife Department, this makes it difficult for law enforcement action to be taken on the incident.
“The Sabah Fisheries Department also does not have a legal authority to deal with damage to coral reefs outside the protected areas, because it is not contained in the Fisheries Act 1985,” he said.
However, Jafry said that the issue of lack of jurisdiction and enforcement would be addressed, to ensure Sabah had stricter legal provisions related to environmental protection.
“This is serious because it damages coral reefs which generally take hundreds of years to grow, and are rarely found, apart from being an important breeding habitat for various marine life,” he said.
He said that the matter was important because the waters off Semporna have become a focus of international and domestic scuba divers.
Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin, when asked to comment on the incident, said that the federal government should give room to the Sabah government to manage federal development projects in the state, to ensure that they would run smoothly.
Bung Moktar, who is also state Works Minister, said that the state Public Works Department (PWD) has experienced engineers to handle projects such as those implemented by the federal agency, apart from the fact that they are more familiar with local issues.
“We (Sabah PWD) ask to be recognised as a qualified agency to handle any project, either federal or state projects … we have enough machinery, we have enough workforce,” he told reporters after visiting the Sandakan Integrated Bus Terminal today.
On another development, related to the bus terminal, Bung Moktar said that he had asked the Sandakan Municipal Council to submit a report on why the terminal, which was completed in 2017, could not yet operate, and a proposal for the terminal to start bus transport services.