LUMUT: Many unlicensed boat owners here are risking the lives of their passengers as they set off to sea without heeding safety guidelines.

Their passengers do not put on life jackets, and not all the boats have fire extinguishers, among other items that are necessary for emergencies, on board.

These were the findings by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) that also revealed the number of people going missing at sea here almost doubled from eight to 15 between 2014 and 2016.

Recently, a man went missing after he fell overboard a boat he and some friends had rented illegally for a fishing trip in Pangkor. MMEA blamed it on negligence on the part of the boat owner.

In urging boat owners to be more responsible when they bring people out to sea, MMEA Northern Region deputy director (operations) Captain Zulinda Ramly said this was a cause for concern.

“It is frustrating to see people putting their own lives at risk and when we advised them to wear life jackets, some would give all sort of excuses.

“Some said they don’t feel comfortable wearing one and that it would restrict their movements,” she said, adding that such excuses were absurd.

“Many have failed to adhere to this,” Zulinda said, adding that the requirements were part of the Safety of Life at Sea and Rules of the Road — Collision at Sea.

She said the matter went beyond wearing life jackets and other safety equipment.

“When a tragedy strikes, those who are left behind have to deal with uncertainties because, by law, the disappearance of a person can only be declared legal by the court after seven years.

“So, apart from the pain of losing their loved one, the family has to suffer and deal with loans and unsettled insurance claims, among others,” she said.

Furthermore, she said, the absence of proper licence meant the next of kin would not be able to take action against the boat owner.

Boat owners are required to register their vessels with the Domestic Shipping Licensing Board and obtain recreation permit from the respective municipal councils.

“Some charge anglers up to RM1,200 per day,” he said, adding that MMEA found many of them were fishermen who were not licensed to ferry the anglers or others for recreational activities.

“Repeated calls by the authorities were made to ensure all on board vessels wear life jackets, but it seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.”

She said closer cooperation among relevant parties, including the Marine Department, was needed to ensure the boat
operators and passengers wore life jackets before leaving the jetty.

The latest case, which was the first reported in the Maritime District 3 this year, involved 31-year-old Khairolafni Ahmad Ghani from Pantai Remis, who was on a fishing trip with friends on March 4.

His body was found on March 13 near Pangkor island.

His brother, Khairani, 36, prayed that no one would share the same fate and urged boat owners and anglers to be responsible.

“I hope this will serve as a lesson to all.

“There’s no point in blaming others as my brother is already gone, but we can prevent recurrences.

“Boat operators must provide safety equipment and ensure those on board put on their life jackets before heading out to sea.

“In some countries, boat operators would make it a point to ensure everyone on board wears a life jacket or they won’t head to sea.

“We should do the same.”

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