Fishing vessels with foreign crew to lose licences

PUTRAJAYA - The authorities are revoking the licences of several hundred deep-sea fishing vessels over the hiring of foreigners, especially Vietnamese, as crew and those being leased to Vietnamese fishermen.

The move, warns Agro-based Industries Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, can result in a shortage of fish in the near future.

The drastic move, he said, had to be taken as Vietnamese seamen working aboard Malaysian vessels were behaving like "sea gangsters" and treating Malaysian waters like their own territories.

"We will find ways to overcome the anticipated shortage of sea catch, but this is something that we have to do to protect our fishermen and fishing industries," he said after meeting several agencies and fishermen on the latest incident where Vietnamese crew members of a trawler were reported to have attacked local fishermen with petrol bombs and shot them with a pistol in waters off Kuantan on Monday.

"The Vietnamese seamen are getting big-headed. They catch fish any way they like, including using two vessels to trawl side-by-side which leaves nothing for others," he said.

"We learnt that some of the boats did not land their catch on our jetties but transferred them to other boats belonging to their countrymen at sea."

Currently, there are 1,260 deep-sea fishing boats in operation and the number of foreign crew members is estimated at about 30,000 with more than half being Vietnamese.

Ismail Sabri said that to date, the ministry had revoked the licences of 270 deep-sea fishing boats for various offences while 41 others were being investigated.

"The towkay will not be happy about this action, but we want them to be responsible. We gave them licences but they leased them out to Vietnamese who are now treating our waters like their own," he said.

In anticipation of retaliation from Vietnamese crew members towards local fishermen resulting from the decision, Ismail Sabri said the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency had promised that patrolling would be increased in hot areas.