We didn’t cause death of 50,000 fishes, says Penang port operator

Penang Port CEO Sasedharan Vasudevan (second from right) at the press conference.

GEORGE TOWN: A port operator here said the water deepening works at the Penang Channel was not the cause of some 50,000 fishes turning up dead at a fish farm on the other side of the island two weeks ago.

Penang Port Sdn Bhd CEO Sasedharan Vasudevan said it investigated a claim by a fisherman who said “dirty water” leaking from dredging ships caused fishes to die at a fish farm in Teluk Bahang.

“Based on satellite data from the dredger’s movements, there were no leaks and it had nothing to do with the dead fish.

“We have been doing this for the past 10 years and there have been no problems,” he said at a press conference today.

Two weeks ago, a fisherman lodged a police report claiming the port’s dredging at the channel, separating the island and Seberang Perai, had likely caused the fishes in Teluk Bahang, 50km away, to die.

The same fisherman had taken a video of the dredger, seen going northwards with a trail of brownish water behind it, and assumed that the dirty water was the cause of death at fish-breeding cages in Teluk Bahang.

Penang authorities said the fish deaths were only reported in two out of six fish breeding cages in Teluk Bahang and were caused by depleting oxygen levels due to the presence of an algal bloom.

Authorities also stated that fishes in other parts of Penang were alive and well, except for the two cages.

At a press conference today, Sasedharan said the assumption made by the fisherman and speculative news reports on the matter were “inherently false”.

“Every single move by the dredger is monitored, including how much dredged materials it is carrying and where it is. Even if the hatch storing the dirt is opened to allow a leak, it would trigger an alarm.

“From our investigations, everything was regular. As for the brownish water left behind the dredge, it is common to see some water seeping out but this has virtually no impact on the sea water.

“The dredger ship itself is up to mark, with certification by the International Maritime Organisation and the Marine Department,” he said.

Sasedharan said even the water quality tests carried out along the route of the dredging have met local and international water standards.

Sasedharan said the dredging is carried out in the Penang Channel once a year to keep the water deep enough for ships to pass through. He said the dredger sucks up sediments from the seabed.

He said the port has to maintain its depth along the channel at 11-12 metres to ensure easy passage of ships.

Sasedharan said the channel needs to be dredged very often, as the Sungai Muda in the north and the Sungai Perai in the south caused “massive siltation” in the channel, causing the water to become shallow.

Sasedharan said the process of dredging is strictly regulated and monitored by the Department of Environment (DoE), which sets the route the dredger takes.

He said the dredger then dumps its contents at a DoE-designated dumpsite 52km away from Muka Head at a promontory and lighthouse on the northeast of Penang Island.