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News: Malaysian Ship Detentions - 'Operation Jangkar Haram' by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency

01 April 2021

The club has previously issued news items about liabilities which ships may face while they are waiting for orders off Singapore OPL where it is not always straightforward for masters to identify international waters and those of Malaysia, Singapore or Indonesia in and around the Straits of Malacca and Singapore (SOMS).

Pursuant to section 491B of the Malaysian Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952 (MSO), any ship which is engaged or intends to engage in any of the following activities in Malaysian waters shall be required to notify the Director of Marine and obtain approval:

  • Dredging
  • Mining, including exploration and exploitation
  • Cable and pipe laying
  • Marine construction, including the construction of jetties and wharves
  • Dumping of any material
  • Sport, leisure or recreational activity
  • Survey
  • Cleaning, including cleaning of cargo tanks
  • Transportation, discharging or loading of wastes
  • Pilotage
  • Ship-to-ship activity
  • Any other activity as determined by the Director of Marine

The Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) has powers to detain any ship that fails to give notification under section 491B of the MSO. Most recently, the common offences where ships are being detained in Malaysian waters under section 491B include anchoring without approval and ship-to-ship transfer of bunkers without approval. Since 2017, 176 ships have been charged under section 491B with levied fines totalling RM11.48 million (approx. $2.75m).

As per the attached notice, it is reported by the club's correspondents SPICA that since 24 March 2021, 31 ships have been detained by the MMEA under 'Operation Jangkar Haram' for failing to obtain the relevant permission to anchor in the eastern waters of Johor (South China Sea). Under local law, Malaysian territorial waters are deemed to be 12 nautical miles offshore. However, it has been reported that the MMEA appears to be using territorial limits prescribed by a 1979 chart. In the waters of Southern Johor, often inaccurately referred to as Singapore OPL East (which the MMEA does not recognise as a term), these territorial limits are as much as 60 nautical miles off the coast of mainland Malaysia, but are within 12 nautical miles of islands off East Johor claimed by Malaysia. Accordingly, when a vessel waits at Singapore Eastern OPL, or Tompok Utara as the Malaysian authorities call it, prior approval of the MMEA must be obtained, failing which a vessel will offend section 491B of the MSO.

Non-compliance with section 491B is a criminal offence. The penalty for infringement of section 491B(1)(l) of the MSO is provided in section 491B(4), as follows:

'The owner, master or agent of the ship or any person who contravenes subsection (1) or (3) shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both.'

However, it is not uncommon for the fine imposed to be reduced to around RM50,000.00.

Should members intend to anchor in the area, it is recommended that members familiarise themselves with the issues outlined above and give at least 24 hours’ notice to the Director of Marine (as per attached Malaysian Shipping Notice (NPM 5/2014)) before any intended anchoring. If in doubt, members should consult their local agent or the club’s P&I correspondent to check with the local marine department office before proceeding to anchor.
We would like to thank Mr Oon Thian Seng and Ms Jessica Teng from of OON & BAZUL in Malaysia and also the club's correspondents SPICA for assistance in drafting this alert.

This article has been updated on 12 April 2021