Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tioman ferry disaster - Ministerial criminal negligence

This letter by Alicia Au titled A Tioman disaster waiting to happen was written to Malaysiakini in June last year. Read and weep, but better still, curse the authorities responsible, especially the Ministers responsible.


On Saturday June 3, we boarded a ferry service at Mersing for the trip to Tioman island for our holiday.

Once the boat is fully packed; yes, you did read correctly, it is packed not loaded; because as always with Bluewater (the ferry operator), the boats are grossly overloaded, in this instance with 10 persons, including one baby in arms, standing in the aisle or precariously in the rear deck well of this small boat where they are at liberty to breath in the aromatic scent of engine exhaust fumes.

Off we go, finally leaving the jetty at around 7.10am, down the river we go to come to a grinding halt on the sandbank. After an hour, a smaller boat came along side and 75 percent of the passengers were asked to cross deck to the smaller boat, which then takes us clear of the sand bar, out to the open sea.

One point to note concerning cross-decking, according to Mersing Maritime police, is that whenever the ferry operators need to cross deck passengers, they are required to inform the police in advance, and a maritime police vessel must be in attendance. No sight of such here, or as you will see, on the next occasion.

The boats finally arrive in Tioman where for the next day or so, the fruits of the island are enjoyed by all, wonderful diving opportunities, very good food and accommodation, until finally it is time to depart on the 3pm boat to Mersing, once again with Bluewater services.

To start with, we arrive at the jetty in good time, generally for a 3pm boat, and with this particular operator, the boats are always a good 30 to 45 minutes late in arriving, however as always, we are on the jetty in good time, 15 minutes before the scheduled 3pm arrival.

At 5pm, there is no sign of the boat and after calls to Mersing and the Bluewater office, we are finally told that the delays and missing boat are because the Maritime police are stopping the Bluewater boats as they depart Mersing and issuing summons for being overloaded, having defective equipment, etc.

Finally at 6.15pm, a large Bluewater ferry, numbered 9, arrives and collects us from the jetty. We were accompanied by another Bluewater ferry, numbered 8. On ferry 9 there is a wide cross section of people, ranging from very young children, through to parents and elderly grandparents, and including one gentleman in a wheelchair. As we sit gazing out at the sunset, at around 7.10pm, ferry 9 suddenly slows down and pulls alongside ferry 8.

In this fading light, the doors are opened and without any warning, or even a polite request, the crew demands that passengers from ferry 9 cross deck to ferry 8.

Now consider this when the boats are in mid-water, at dusk with land was out of sight. The crew forced people across from one boat to another, despite protests being made that this was dangerous, illegal, and downright stupid. Women, children, the elderly and the wheelchair passenger were all forced across the widely moving gap between the two boats.

Protests to the captain of ferry 9 fell upon deaf ears. It was quite obvious, from the nature of this action, that this dangerous transfer at sea was premeditated for at any time during the early parts of the voyage, this transfer could have been effected in total safety whilst the boats were located at the same jetty.

Ferry 8 was by now grossly overcrowded, the forward emergency exit was blocked by the passenger in the wheelchair, the port and starboard exits were blocked by mountains of baggage and by people crammed into the small available space. People were standing in the rear deck well, sitting on the stairway to the upper deck, with even people squatting in the toilet because the boat was so overloaded, blocked the aft exit.

As the boat approaches Mersing, it again stops and it is the same old story - we are asked to cross deck into smaller boats for the journey to Mersing jetty. Again women, children, the elderly are forced to jump down from a high ferry to a much lower-lying speed boat, the jump was some four feet. No assistance from crew members as they are to busy holding onto the ropes. So everyone was forced to look after themselves in making this leap, literally into the dark.

We hear a mumble from a crew person that this is necessary because the tide is too low for the ferry. However, 15 minutes after disembarking at the jetty, the large ferry comes up river and also moors.

When making a police report, we were advised that Bluewater had been receiving a large number of summonses during the day mainly for this practice of overloading and we were further advised that cross-decking of passengers is only allowed under the direct supervision of the maritime authorities. This operator shows a blatant disregard for passenger safety, their arrogance and the high-handed manner they deal with their clients has to be experienced to be believed.

At the very least, the captains of Bluewater ferries 8 and 9 should have their certification revoked, their comments and attitudes show them to be quite unfit to hold a position of any responsibility. One can only surmise, as on this occasion they were lucky. Should an accident have occurred, they would no doubt be running for cover and pointing the finger of blame everywhere except at the people it should be pointed at, themselves.

Issuing summonses against the operator is a joke. Any paltry fine likely as the outcome of this weekend’s shenanigans will be far outweighed by the collections from fare-paying clients they regard as so much cattle. Again at the very least, this company’s licence to operate should be revoked with immediate effect, and thus send a message to all ferry services that such downright dangerous practice and poor service attitudes will no longer be tolerated.

The real losers here are the Tourism Board of Malaysia, and the resorts and diving operators on Tioman, whose hard work has been wasted. We as a group will not return to this location, you can be certain that word-of-mouth from such a large group of people will dissuade even larger numbers of people to change their vacation locations to elsewhere.

How long can such poor service be tolerated? Or are the authorities simply waiting to react to a large-scale disaster involving one of these cowboy operators before wringing their hands and saying they were not aware of the situation?

Maritime tradition fell overboard from Tioman ferry


  1. Everytime there is tragedy.....
    "I need a full investigation and report....(one month later) waiting for AG or Ministry to take action....(another month later)..... Zzzzzz no evidence / proof, no action, no news CASE CLOSED!

    Bus tragedy, KLIA stowaway and now Ferry.....

  2. You know, Kaytee, in this instance, there very well may need to be a REAL investigation for a change.

    The reason? An internationally known maritime convention called SOLAS, which we've not only become a signatory, but also ratified (again, for a change).

    The letter is yet another piece of evidence that the operators have been given too much leaway... and yes, ratifying means that it is actually Malaysian law...

  3. KT,
    Remember there was a big Hooha in late November last year when a boy was killed during a collission between two Langkawi ferries ?
    Nothing much has come out from it after the initial flurry of checks on ferry operators by the Marine Department.

    This tragedy was preventable. Or at least the fire need not have resulted with such loss of life.
    The laws and safety regulations are there.
    The ferry operators have been flouting the rules, and the government watchdogs who are supposed to protect the public's interest have been asleep.

    Shame on you Chan Kong Choy !

  4. I do not think that it is fair for us to blame the authorities. We are a progressive country with more than 25 million people and more than 101 public services! We should charge the owners / operators of such scheduled public transportation services and jail them the minute they run foul of the law. Lives are at stake and jail sentences is the only way to deal with such transporters of death.

  5. anon. of 12:39, I beg to disagree with you. Why should the authorities (ministers, civil servants) not be blamed? It is obvious that they have not been carrying out their duties. Lack of enforcement is one of the biggest problems in Malaysia, not only at sea, but also on the roads, and elswhere. Agencies do not ensure that public buildings are well built and properly maintained. Crimes are on the increase and an air of lawlessness pervades. If civil servants are not interested in doing their job, and are not going to be blamed for their misdeeds, then they better be thinned out to perhaps 10 or 20 % of their current numbers, as they simply 'makan gaji'.

  6. the buck must stop at their level else these ministers will enjoy their fat perks without an iota of responsibilities. worst, they will spend more time in cahoots with the leeches to come out with more money leeching schemes such as RM4.6 billion PKA and E-kesihatan scandals.

  7. In the not too far away land, when I tried to setup a business that would help promote economic activities in the area, providing employment and promoting tourism, their local govt officers were helpful and encouraging in any way they can. Theirs is one of assisting and I am to meet their rules and accept the risks of the business venture.

    In Bolehland, the procedure to apply for a business depends on a few factors. Your ethnicity is the starting point - for some location or business activities one must have the right "skin tone". Then the application will not get far without the essential lubricants to enable the smooth turning of the ever slow cogs in the machinery.

    Every each step is a barrier or a hoop one must overcome - in fact it can be easily overcome by applying more lubricants. This lubricants is getting more expensive and is making business setup a non-starter. This Bolehland have no concept of wellbeing for the country or the Rakyat and when I decided to move overseas I am called a traitor to the country.

    I leave it to to the readers to decide who is the traitor to the country called Bolehland.

    I believe, for some there is not much choice or economically viable but to operate a business illegally as some of the ferry operators are doing in Bolehland.

    Blame must surely be aimed at the fundamental issues that created such situation in the first place. Of course it is far easier to find a scrape goat.

    My condolences and sympathy to the decreased's family.

  8. anon of 2:57 pm. Well said, congratulations on a clear concise overview of the current state of affairs in Bolehland, or perhapd a better name would be Bodohland?
    The only path is down, economic ruin as soon as the oil & gas runs out in 10 to 15 years. No one seems be be concerned for the future of generations to come. The NEP coupled with egoistic, corrupt and greedy leaders are the primary causes of this malaise. SNAFU in Malaysia.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. Greetings John Lee MK, I like reading your blog, great writing.
    I suppose your comment was based on a quote from the infamous and small brained Mufti of Perak?

  11. comments by one false 'johnleemk' has been deleted - I know john and he doesn't have a view - same unknown bloke has been posting nasties at Marina Mahathir's blog using same false identity

  12. hehe..

    the ferry was on fired and blame the ministry?

    u must be joking dude..

    why not blame the cheapskate owner for not taking care their own business?