Kuala Lumpur – When Malaysia's version of a national coast guard begins operations next month to police the country's waters, it could mark a watershed in the country's maritime security. The long-awaited Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) will take over the task of maritime enforcement and surveillance work currently undertaken by 11 different agencies, including police, marine police, customs and navy.
The new agency will start small, said Malaysian Defence Minister Najib Abdul Razak on Oct 10 during the MMEA's soft launch. It will have an initial staff of 500, a fraction of its full strength set at 4,035, and an initial budget of RM69 million.
In its first phase of operations, the MMEA would concentrate on enforcement and surveillance only in selected areas, including the Strait of Malacca. "At this time, it is appropriate to focus on specific areas. We are supposed to cover 250 nautical miles and there was a suggestion for us to cover just 50. But covering that extent for all the areas is just too large," Mr Najib said.
A fleet of 72 vessels drawn from various existing maritime-based agencies, such as the navy, police and marine department, will be used initially.
The MMEA will tackle problems of piracy, maritime enforcement, search and rescue and air and coastal surveillance, and provide platform support services to relevant agencies in the maritime zone.
"The establishment of the new agency is based on the nation's need to have a strong collective thrust in maritime enforcement. A dedicated agency must be established to enforce more than 20 federal laws applicable in our maritime zone," Mr Najib, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, said.
In an editorial, the New Straits Times said: "For far too long, the country's efforts to check cross-border smuggling of contraband goods, curb drug trafficking, stem the flow of illegal immigrants, prevent illegal fishing, or contain piracy on the open seas, have been hampered by the absence of a single powerful authority.
"With 11 government agencies responsible for enforcing maritime laws, responsibilities tended to overlap, and misunderstandings over jurisdictions and poor co-ordination among them had led to slow responses to maritime threats ... It (MMEA) may well turn out to be the missing element that is crucially needed to deal with the challenges that the nation faces at sea."
* Maritime Enforcement Agency starts operations on Nov 30 (The Star, Oct 11)
* Maritime watershed (New Straits Times, Oct 13)