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Malaysia keeping eye on China vessels in disputed territory

 | January 10, 2017

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency says, together with the Malaysian navy, it is patrolling the Luconia Shoals to check on intrusions by China vessels into Malaysian waters.

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KUCHING: The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) and the Royal Malaysia Navy have been monitoring the movement of China Coast Guard vessels in Beting Patinggi Ali (better known as Luconia Shoals) since March 2013.

MMEA Sarawak Region chief First Admiral Ismaili Bujang Pit was quoted by The Borneo Post as saying that patrols were “often” carried out “as control measures against China Coast Guard vessels within the waters of the shoals”.

“There has been no undesirable incident happening there, and Maritim Malaysia has been doing its best to ensure the waters off Beting Patinggi Ali remain safe for our fishermen and maritime community,” he was quoted as saying.

China, which is aggressively attempting to consolidate its claims on large parts of the South China Sea, claims the Luconia Shoals as part of its territory. However, the shoals, about 84 nautical miles off the Miri coast, are well within Malaysian territorial waters and are administered by Malaysia.

There have been reports of China coast guard vessels intruding in Malaysian waters around the shoals and chasing away Malaysian fishermen. Malaysia has, in the past, registered diplomatic protests with China over these incidents.

Although Prime Minister Najib Razak has taken Malaysia closer to China, and trade and business have increased tremendously, the dispute over territorial claims in the South China Sea, including the Luconia Shoals and the Spratly Islands, remains a sore point in relations.

Meanwhile, Ismaili denied the MMEA had been directed by Putrajaya to remove Malaysian flags placed by an Australian on the Luconia Shoals.

He said social media postings claiming that MMEA had taken the flags down, and which had gone viral, were false. He said there had been no official report of the incident.

He also denied the agency’s Bombardier aircraft had flown low on the shoals when “such (an) incident happened”.

Last August, Hans Berekoven, an amateur marine archaeologist recovering artefacts from a shipwreck for a Malaysian museum, was reported to have placed the Malaysian flags on the Luconia Shoals.

Berekoven had reportedly been harassed by the China coast guard vessels while he was working in the area to recover artefacts.

Berekoven had then told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “They were trying to push us out. When we arrived there and started diving, they would up-anchor and sort of circle around us, sometimes really close. It was a sort of gentle intimidation.”


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