Harrowing moments on kelong

MALAYSIA - It was to be the start of a routine five-day fishing trip to a kelong off the coast of Malaysia for Singapore permanent resident Martin Von Gnechten on Sunday.

But barely 12 hours after he arrived at the popular Ah Yew Kelong, Mr Von Gnechten, who is American, found himself clinging onto the wooden beams of the kelong for dear life.

Yesterday, in a telephone interview with My Paper, the 56-year-old executive chef recounted the moments leading up to the collapse of the kelong into the sea near Sibu Island.

At about 8pm on Sunday, he suddenly heard the sound of something cracking.

The kelong, which could typically take up to 180 people, started to collapse from one end, he said. He was the only guest on the kelong at the time; more than 10 others with him comprised maintenance workers and kelong staff.

"We were cornered at the opposite end and a few even jumped into the water," said Mr Von Gnechten.

The kelong's generator then shut down and the platform became pitch black. Many people scurried about, armed with torchlights. A kelong manager even rushed to get life jackets for them.

Hanging precariously over the water, Mr Von Gnechten and about 10 others who remained on the kelong waited for half an hour until a boat which regularly services the kelong went to their aid.

They were then taken to the nearby Pulau Sibu.

The kelong later collapsed completely into the sea.

Mr Von Gnechten, who has a Thai wife, said he was lucky to be alive, escaping with only what he had on him - his wallet, mobile phone and passport.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency told My Paper that the incident happened between 7.30pm and 8pm, and no one was injured.

Mr He Yu Hock, 50, owner of a neighbouring kelong called Ah Fatt Kelong, said Ah Yew Kelong had been undergoing maintenance works at the time of the incident. He added that it had been damaged in a thunderstorm previously.

Two of the four kelong operators in the area said that Singaporeans continue to make up a steady stream of their customers. Mr He said that as many as 300 Singaporeans visit his kelong each month to relax, fish or eat seafood.

Mr He told My Paper that there is "no need to worry" when it comes to safety and that his kelong undergoes maintenance twice a year to replace wooden planks and to have its foundation checked.

He said: "I don't think the incident will affect the kelong business here."


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