KUCHING: Two shipping-related associations in Sabah and Sarawak want the cabotage policy to continue.
The Sarawak and Sabah Shipowners Association (SSSA) and Sarawak Shipping Association (SSA) said if it was abolished the local shipping industry would be badly affected.
Also, they said in a recent statement, it was a misconception that foreign ships could not sail directly to Sarawak or vice versa.
The SSSA and SSA were responding to Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg’s call for the cabotage policy to be abolished so that ships from overseas could come straight to Sarawak and locals could enjoy lower prices for goods.
Under the Malaysian cabotage policy, which affects Sabah and Sarawak, only vessels registered in Malaysia are allowed to load and unload cargo in Malaysian ports. The idea behind the policy is for Port Klang to be the container hub port in Malaysia.
The Borneo Post reported that the SSSA and the SSA said in the statement: “For the past 20 to 30 years or more, all logs, plywood and sawn timber are directly shipped from Sarawak to various countries like China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and others.
“Containerised carriers and other cargo ships are also calling on Sarawak’s ports directly from these foreign countries.”
The associations said that the cabotage policy had, in fact, been partially liberalised to allow foreign vessels to carry transhipment cargo from major ports in West Malaysia – such as Port Klang and Tanjung Pelapas Port – to Kuching, Bintulu and Sepanggar Bay, without the need for a domestic shipping licence.
However, they admitted that despite the liberalisation, the desired results “have yet to be seen”. The report did not state what the associations meant by this.
They support the cabotage policy because it prevents foreign vessels from lingering and operating in Sabah-Sarawak waters.
“Under our cabotage policy, only foreign vessels registered with a domestic shipping licence which is valid for only three months, are allowed to transport cargo between local ports.
“It is just like our immigration laws. If a foreigner wants to work in Sarawak, he has to apply for a work permit,” the associations said.
They said it was unfair to blame the price difference of goods between East and West Malaysia on the cabotage policy.
“It is not the cabotage policy which impedes trade but the imbalanced economic development between East and West Malaysia. This has to be addressed systematically and strategically,” the Borneo Post quoted the associations as saying.
The report quoted Deputy Chief Minister Dr James Jemut Masing as saying in response to the statement that one should look at the interests of both shippers and consumers.
He reminded that there were more consumers than shippers.
“Local shippers must justify their stance in supporting the policy,” The Borneo Post quoted him as saying.