Sinking 'Sipadan' to boost Tioman

ROMPIN, Malaysia - Forty-eight years after serving the country faithfully, patrol vessel KM Sipadan has one final, and permanent, mission in the service of the country.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) vessel was sunk off Pulau Tioman yesterday to make an artificial reef. It is set to be the latest diving spot near the popular tourist island.

At 11am, water was pumped into the 31m-long and 4.5m-wide decommissioned ship to sink it.

Its bow went first before the stern disappeared into the azure waters off the coast of Pahang.

The vessel, formerly known as KD Sri Sarawak, reached the bottom at 11.55am.

"KM Sipadan holds a lot of sentimental value and the best way to dispose it is near Pulau Tioman where it can be the new habitat for many fish species and corals in the island," said Kuantan MMEA chief Captain (Maritime) Abdul Aziz Idrus said yesterday.

The vessel served the Royal Malaysian Navy from 1964 to 2005 before it was handed over to the MMEA in 2005.

As it was considered too old for continued service, the MMEA decided to decommission it and present it to the Marine Parks Department.

KM Sipadan was placed among the coral reefs at Sawadee Wreck, which is a popular haunt for divers, 2 nautical miles from Pulau Tioman.

Prior to its sinking, Aziz said the ship's engine and weapons had been removed.

Marine Parks Department director-general Dr Sukarno Wagiman said the department appreciated MMEA's gift. About RM30,000 was spent to clean and tow the vessel to its final berth.

"We cleaned the ship before it was sunk as we do not want it to pollute the water. We also chose Sawadee Wreck for the ship's final resting place as it will provide more attractive diving spots in the area," said Sukarno, adding that the artificial reefs in the area were mostly formed by boats sunk since 1994.

Tourism Ministry Pahang's general manager, Idros Yahya, said divers would only be allowed to dive near the shipwreck once the agencies involved had given the go-ahead.

"There will be some physical movements before the ship settles firmly on the seabed.

"Therefore, it will be dangerous to divers, especially the new ones," said Idros.

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