IT appears to be a case of ‘judgment error’ by the skipper and crew of a foreign bulk carrier that grazed a Malaysian vessel in the Straits of Johor.
This is believed to be one of the reasons as to why the Greece-registered ship Piraeus graze d with the anchored Marine Department’s Polaris in Malaysian waters at 2.28pm last Saturday.
While the Malaysian authorities have initiated an investigation into the incident and have detained the Piraeus’ crew, pending completion of investigations, maritime industry officials are baffled over the poor handling of the Piraeus by its crew.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials said the weather was clear and there was plenty of space for the Piraeus to sail by.
More damning for the Piraeus is a video clip showing the entire incident and graphics from an onboard very high frequency (VHF) automatic identification system (AIS), which were made available to the New Straits Times.
“We are puzzled as to why the Piraeus did a loop turn (as can been seen from Polaris’ AIS), instead of just proceeding straight past the Polaris.
“Also, from the video, it is evident that the Piraeus’ skipper did not take into consideration the area’s tidal stream and currents.
“It appears he had miscalculated the (water) drift, leading to the Piraeus veering towards and grazing the Polaris,” said a senior official, familiar with the procedures on vessel movements in the Straits of Johor.
The Piraeus was believed to be heading for Tanjung Pelepas Port in Johor after earlier departing Australia.
The officials said while approaching the Straits of Johor, the Piraeus turned starboard and slowed down but somehow appeared to have lost control, resulting in the loop and subsequent graze.
The officials said the Polaris was a buoy-laying vessel that was built in 2017.
It has a tonnage of 3,128, a deadweight of 2,246 tonnes, is 84m long and has a beam (widest width) of 16m.
The officials said the Piraeus was 39,994 tonnes heavy, had a deadweight of 76,296 tonnes, was 225m long, had a beam of 33m and was built in 2001.
The incident which occurred on Saturday, initially raised eyebrows when the Singapore Maritime and Port Authority claimed the “collision” occurred in Singapore territorial waters within Singapore Port Limits off Tuas, and in an area that goes beyond Malaysia’s territorial claim of 1979, which Singapore has never recognised.
Singapore reiterated its call for Malaysia to withdraw its vessels from the disputed waters and warned that persistent presence of unauthorised Malaysian vessels posed a threat to safety of navigation in the area.
It further warned that Malaysia would be responsible for any untoward situation on the ground that arose from continued deployment of its vessels in the area.
However, Malaysian Marine Department director-general Datuk Baharin Abdul Hamid said the incident happened in Malaysian waters.
He said the Polaris was tasked to monitor the safety of vessels navigating the waters around Johor Baru Port and had n ot sailed in to Singapore waters.
The port authority had expressed concern that the presence of unauthorised vessels in Singapore port limits could cause confusion for the international shipping community and threatened navigational safety in its waters.
There were no injuries reported among the 23 crew of the Polaris and the vessel did not sustain any serious damage.
The Piraeus is now berthed at Tanjung Bin jetty.
The incident came just a month after Malaysia and Singapore were engaged in a diplomatic row, following maritime and airspace territorial disputes.
Singapore protested a visit by Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian to a Malaysian government vessel, which the republic claimed had been “anchored illegally ” in the waters off Tuas in the Straits of Johor.
Malaysia objected to the republic implementing the Instrument Landing System to its Seletar Airport, with aircraft flying low over Pasir Gudang, Johor.