PETALING JAYA: The group of up to 100 foreign boats that encroached into Malaysian waters last week has been confirmed to have conducted fishing activities off Sarawak.
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency director-general Maritime Admiral Datuk Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar warned that foreign ships illegally fishing in the country's waters could be sunk and turned into artificial reefs, or auctioned off along with their catch, if convicted under Malaysian law.
"We would like to state that we have in the past seized and stripped the rights of no less than 826 foreign fishing boats that encroached into our waters to conduct illegal fishing," he told a press conference at the agency headquarters in Putrajaya on Tuesday.
Admiral Ahmad Puzi said the boats which the agency first detected last Thursday near Beting Patinggi Ali, off Sarawak, were escorted by two coastguard ships.
Malaysian and international media have reported that the ships were from China.
"They wanted to conduct fishing activities, and when we saw that was their intention, we had to ensure that whatever action they took was reported and recorded with photographs," Admiral Ahmad Puzi said.
Asked whether the boats conducted any fishing activities in Malaysian waters, he replied: "It happened."
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim told reporters in Parliament last Thursday that some 100 China-registered boats had been detected encroaching into Malaysia's waters near Beting Patinggi Ali and that the Government had instructed the agency to monitor the situation.
Admiral Ahmad Puzi said the agency sent more than six ships and an aircraft to "shadow" the intruders after none of the boats responded to radio calls.
The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) also sent a ship and an aircraft to track the movement of the foreign boats.
Admiral Ahmad Puzi said some of the boats were larger than the agency's own vessels.
An agency's Bombardier CL415 plane reported that the boats had sailed 70 nautical miles west compared to their position the day before, and that the number of boats sighted had dropped to 82.
The next day, 87 boats were detected about 15 nautical miles from the Malaysia-Indonesia Exclusive Economic Zone border.
It is understood that Wisma Putra is looking into the reports submitted by the agency and RMN before determining the next course of action.
At the Dewan Rakyat, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak told the House that Malaysia was capable of dealing with the errant vessels encroaching into Malaysian waters.
Najib told Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah Raja Ahmad (Amanah-Kuala Terengganu) that negotiations and not military force should be the method used to deal with overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea.