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THE first time I set foot in Pengerang was three years ago when a boat capsized, leading to the drowning of a group of illegal immigrants. I was there to cover the incident.
I have always been fascinated by the coastal constituency, which derived its name from a village in Kampung Pengerang.
Surprisingly, there is no Pengerang town.
The biggest town in Pengerang is Sungai Rengit, which is famous for seafood and views of large ships at sea.
It is also unique because it is located in the southeastern tip of Johor.
Pengerang Member of Parliament Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said once said the area was at the "edge of the world" as it is rather far away and secluded.
Prior to the opening of the Senai-Desaru Expressway, getting to Pengerang from Johor Baru required one to drive via the Kota Tinggi trunk road, a journey which could easily take two hours.
But the new expressway has managed to reduce travelling time by about half an hour.
So it was with great excitement when I heard of the mammoth development project planned for Pengerang under Petronas.
The project, known as the Petronas Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (Rapid), is slated for full operations in 2016, and is expected to be bigger than the combined areas of the other Petronas hubs in Kerteh, Malacca and Gebeng in Pahang.
However, there had also been criticism from certain quarters who tried to stop the project.
They claim the local community would not be compensated when they are forced to relocate from their homes.
This was, however, untrue as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had assured the people of Pengerang that compensation totalling RM4.1 million had already been paid to affected fishermen in the area.
This was needed as the fishermen affected by the project, who may need to relocate, require better equipment in order to continue fishing in the coastal area.
There are plans to build a new fishermen complex in the area.
Najib said the Fisheries Department and Fisheries Development Board were identifying new locations for freshwater aquaculture to enable fishermen to diversify their incomes by taking up aquaculture, and not rely solely on fishing.
The federal government, through the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry, had also given allocations to refurbish and repair fishermen's homes.
All such assistance will hopefully make the relocation process a little easier for Pengerang folk.
However, there may be some fishermen who may have been left out in the compensation exercise.
If so, Najib said a committee headed by Johor Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Committee chairman Datuk Aziz Kaprawi has been set up to look into the matter.
The criticism that came against the Pengerang project has also received the attention of the Sultan of Johor.
Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar had castigated those who opposed the project, describing them as "anti-development instigators".
The ruler urged Pengerang folk not to be duped by those who tried to stop the project, which he said would be a catalyst for their better future.
"I am saddened that there are those who are against development.
"I have heard that there are opportunists who try to instigate the people of Pengerang to oppose this project and demand reasonable compensation," said the Sultan.
He went on to say that the criticism against the project was uncalled for, as it was designed to improve the lot of the people.
Even if one did not share the sultan's view, one only need to take a look around the sleepy, coastal constituency of Pengerang to know that it is in dire need of development.
Perhaps the Sultan said it best when he pointed out that with the implementation of the project, children of Pengerang folk would not need to leave their aged parents to find jobs in cities far away.