Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun during the launch of the Sabah Malaysian Association of Tours and Travel Agents (MATTA) Fair at Suria Sabah Shopping Mall. Pix by Edmund Samunting

KOTA KINABALU: A new guideline and policy for salvaging works especially on historical shipwrecks in Sabah waters is underway, said state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun.

Masidi assured that a special committee set up under the Ministry following a recent controversy over the removal of three wartime Japanese shipwrecks from Sabah’s northern waters.

The next step now is to complete the work on a set of new standard operating procedures (SOP).

“It is a continuous process and they (the special committee) are updating the current SOP to ensure better guidelines and policies with regards to the protection of shipwrecks are put in place.

“So far we have had very good cooperation with all the relevant quarters,” he told reporters after launching the Sabah Malaysian Association of Tours and Travel Agents (MATTA) Fair at Suria Sabah Shopping Mall, here.

In Feb, Masidi announced the state government under his Ministry would introduce the new guidelines to better preserve the remaining 27 historical shipwrecks in Sabah waters.

The move came after a local company Ugeens Berjaya Enterprise in collaboration with Universiti Malaysia Sabah carried out salvaging work on three World War 2 Japanese shipwrecks in Usukan – Sabah’s popular wreck dive site off Kota Belud.

In January, Ugeens Berjaya Enterprise commissioned a Chinese-registered dredging ship Chuan Hong 68 to conduct the salvaging works purportedly for UMS’ research purpose.

The process was brought to a halt after Masidi instructed UMS to cease its research following concerns raised by the fishing and diving fraternity.

However, by then, the three wrecks sites, said to be teeming with marine life were later found to have been destroyed and the wrecks, missing.

On April 20, the Chuan Hong 68 vessel and 20 crew members were detained by Indonesian Navy after they were caught allegedly scavenging valuables from a shipwreck near Anambas Islands, Riau Islands province. However, seven crew members hiding on the dredger managed to escape.

On April 28, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency managed to detain the vessel on Johor waters with the seven crew on board.

“This is a hard lesson for everyone especially those who may have unknowingly been used in the furtherance of crime.

“What happened (to Sabah) has happened and now we need to be more careful in the future to ensure similar events do not occur,” stressed Masidi.