PULAU BATU PUTEH DECISION: Loss a big blow for fishermen

By: Satiman Jamin (New Straits Times-24/05/2008/

KOTA TINGGI: The normally quiet fishing community in Sungai Rengit, Pengerang, 65km from here, became highly charged yesterday, as fishermen shook their heads in disbelief over the loss of Pulau Batu Puteh.

The fishing community has a direct stake in the dispute as they have been at the receiving end of enforcement by Singapore’s marine police guarding the tiny island, and being told to keep clear of the waters around it.

Pengerang Fishermen Association chairman Abu Bakar Mohamad said before the dispute over the ownership of the island, fishermen were free to fish there.

“The area around the island is a gold mine, abundant with marine life, both in quality and quantity.

“Although we really hoped for Malaysia to be declared the rightful owner of the island, we are also aware of the government’s stand to accept the International Court of Justice’s decision,” he said.

Abu Bakar said he had informed all his 1,500 members to stay calm, regardless of the outcome of the arbitration.

A fisherman, Syed Ahmad Syed Yasin, 72, who had been fishing since 1957, said he was really disappointed with the judgment.

“How can we accept that, as it was much closer to us compared with Singapore,” he said, pointing out that Pulau Batu Puteh is just 7.7 nautical miles from Tanjung Penyusuh, Pengerang, compared with the 25.5 nautical miles distance from Singapore.

He said in the 1970s, there was only a lighthouse on the island, but when living quarters and a helipad were added in the 1980s, fishermen became apprehensive that Singapore would lay claim to Pulau Batu Puteh.

Azizul Zaidi, 31, was more concerned with the long-term ramifications of the decision.

As the island is less than 12 nautical miles from the peninsula, Singapore could divide the waterways halfway as theirs, he said.

“I would understand if the dispute was between Indonesia and Malaysia, because as close as Pulau Batu Puteh is from our shores compared with Singapore, at four nautical miles, Sedona in Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia is the nearest shore to the island,” Azizul Zaidi said. He said fishermen would not have any rich fishing ground in the area to earn a living.

“Where are we supposed to fish then, as the area around Tanjung Pengelih had been badly affected by the reclamation carried out by Singapore a few years ago?” Azizul Zaidi asked. He said they had sought refuge from storms in the waters around Pulau Batu Puteh as it was always calm there


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