Sabah govt to take charge of Sipadan Island

Sipadan Island has been gazetted as a marine park and a protected area. (Bernama pic)

KOTA KINABALU: The prime minister has agreed in principle to return the management of the world-renowned Sipadan Island, now managed by the National Security Council (MKN), to the Sabah government.

Chief Minister Shafie Apdal said the takeover will be done once the federal Cabinet approves it.

He said the Sipadan issue had been discussed several times with Dr Mahathir Mohamad during meetings of the special Cabinet steering committee on the implementation of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63), chaired by Mahathir.

“At the committee level, Tun has agreed and we only need to bring it to the federal Cabinet.

“Once it’s done, the island will be managed by the tourism, culture and environment ministry,” Shafie told reporters at his office here today.

Sipadan has been managed by MKN following the decision by the International Court of Justice to award territorial ownership to Malaysia in 2002 after a dispute with Indonesia.

The island was gazetted as a marine park under Sabah Parks three years later under the authority of MKN. In the same year, it was also placed under the Protected Places and Protected Areas Act 1959.

Each diver is required to pay a conservation permit fee to Sabah Parks, which collects the fees for MKN.

Shafie said that following the takeover, the state government will look at how best to engage professional divers to become marine rangers, who will look out for suspicious activities at sea, particularly fish bombing.

“We must ensure these are qualified master divers who can guide not only locals but also tourists to go to safer areas,” he said.

He was responding to a suggestion by the Semporna Professional Divers Association for the authorities to set up a marine rangers team to curb fish bombing activities particularly in Semporna.

This follows the fish bombing incident that killed three people, including two Chinese tourists, who were diving off Semporna last Friday.

Shafie said there is also a need to review the laws to deter fish bombings.

“They (culprits) are not easily scared by the penalty. I understand that sometimes when they are detained, they are freed because the enactments are vague to charge them.

“A review is overdue not only to deter people from carrying out this menace but also to ensure the safety of divers,” he said.

Shafie also said he will propose to fishermen living along coastal areas to rear fish so they do not have to go too far to sea or to resort to fish bombing.