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Buy Malaysian boats first

Buy Malaysian boats first

Published by The Star• 03/10/2021

Shipbuilding opportunities: Malaysia has a long way to go in modernising its fishing fleet, with much room to upgrade tens of thousands of old wooden boats to steel or composite ones.

AS the nation becomes more prosperous, the demand for fish in the country is expected to grow. This makes it essential to modernise our fishing fleet if we are to meet the increased demand.


However, Malaysian fishermen should not only invest in brand new steel or composite fishing boats, but also source them from local manufacturers, say the Association of Marine Industries of Malaysia (Amim).

The progression to modern vessels – which can be made of high-tech composite materials other than metal – from the rickety wooden ones will bring the nation’s fisheries industry to the next level, says Soo Jee Main, president of Amim.


“Not only will modern boats enable our fishermen to venture into deeper seas, the orders of these vessels will go a long way towards supporting the local shipbuilding and ship repair industry at the same time,” he says as he underlines the challenges facing the local industry.


For years, the local shipbuilding industry has been calling for government assistance to give its players a leg up. The value of good quality boats to the fisheries industry cannot be under-estimated, says Soo.

Soo: ‘Our Malaysian-designed and fabricated fishing trawlers and fisheries research vessels have been exported to Australia and Bangladesh.’

In 2019, fish production and the fisheries industry’s contribution to the Malaysian economy stood at 1,455,446 tonnes, with a value of RM11.33bil. Citing Fisheries Department data, Amim highlights that more than 50,000 fishing vessels (all types and tonnage) plying Malaysian waters provide work to 126,595 people, with 95,443 of them local fishermen, and the remaining 31,152 foreigners.


According to Amim, a majority of Malaysian fishermen are not ready to venture into deeper seas, preferring to just fish in the waters closer to shore. This is reflected in the line-up of fishing vessels here, with only 2,300 vessels falling under Class C, and 600 under Class C2, which pales in comparison to the total of 50,000 vessels.


Boats in classes C and C2 are typically made of steel, with a gross registered tonnage (GRT) of at least 40, and can venture into deeper waters, which are at least 22km from the shore.


GRT is the measure of a ship’s total internal volume, as expressed in “register tonnes”, each of which is equal to 100 cubic feet (2.83 m3).


“At the moment, only 2% out of 50,000 fishing vessels are involved in deep-sea fishing (C class and above), while the remaining 98% are involved in inshore fishing. The majority of fishing vessels operating in Malaysia are wooden,” says Soo, underscoring the massive potential for the industry if fishermen are given more incentives and assistance to switch to modern boats.


“The average wooden hull life can be as long as 20 years, but the maintenance cost of these boats increases drastically year by year,” says Soo, who is also the business development manager for a shipbuilder and repairer based in Lumut, Perak.


The local shipbuilding industry is currently saddled with excess capacity, partly contributed by the downturn in the oil and gas industry, as well as stiff competition from regional players.


With 111 members (97 ordinary members and 14 associate members), Amim represents a vast sector of the Malaysian marine industry, which comprises shipbuilding, ship repair and marine-related industries. Its primary mission is to promote the interests of its members, to assist in the development of shipbuilding and repair as well as the marine-related industry, while pushing for continuous improvement of maritime standards.


Amim stakeholders maintain that local shipyards have the capacity and capability to build all types and sizes of fishing vessels.


“For example, our Malaysian- designed and fabricated fishing trawlers and fisheries research vessels have been exported to Australia and Bangladesh,” says Soo.


“In the meantime, our industry, the shipbuilding and ship repair industry, and its spillover effects to the entire maritime industry ecosystem can contribute significantly to the economy, in line with government’s National Recovery Plan by empowering the people, propelling businesses and stimulating the economy.”


Amim Fisheries Task Force chairman Nornazifah Saad believes that modern fishing vessels with improved safety and proper accommodation facilities will be able to attract more millennials to join the fishing industry.


“They will have the ability to learn and use modern gear, navigation, and marine engineering.


“This will enhance the livelihood and quality of life with improved catch leading to higher incomes for fishermen,” says Nornazifah, who is working on the construction of the first steel-hull class C2 fishing boat at a local engineering and maritime services company.


Malaysian players are wary of the threat posed by foreign players, such as those from China and Europe, who have a large arsenal of modern fishing boats for export.


“They know that Malaysia will need to modernise its fishing fleets, and more than 50,000 wooden boats are ripe for replacement,” says Amim, which says that Malaysia has been building ships for more than a century: the country’s first shipyard was set up in Sarawak in 1912. The Brooke Dockyard opened for business near Kuching then and has since evolved into a credible marine engineering entity with active involvement in the oil and gas, shipbuilding and ship repair business, and other civil infrastructure.


“Amim would like to express our concern and to plead for foreign builders to be restricted from building modern fishing vessels for Malaysia. The use of foreign-made vessels should only be considered if the local shipyard is unable to build the vessel. Building modern fishing vessels outside of Malaysia would definitely be a major setback to our country’s aspiration to become a leading maritime nation in this region,” says Soo.


The Fisheries Department’s Modernisation of Fishing Vessel initiative will provide some relief for both shipbuilders and fishermen, as it aims to shift the fleet of traditional wooden vessels to steel or composite (such as fibreglass) vessels.


“The modernisation of fishing vessels will generate opportunities for local designers and shipyards and create economies of scale for local equipment manufacturers,” says Abd Ghafar, Amim vice president for Peninsular Malaysia.


His company built Malaysia’s first steel-hull C class fishing vessel in 2019.


Malaysian artisanal or inshore fishermen are also cognisant of the need to modernise, even though they don’t typically fish further than 15km from shore.


In 2016, 42% of Malaysian fishermen were considered “artisanal”, which is a classification based on those using small fishing vessels with just an outboard engine (or no engine at all); there are 53,190 licensed fishing vessels.


However, the bulk of Malaysia’s fish supply comes from the larger boats that go further out and use larger nets like trawl and purse seine nets to scoop up more fish; they collectively produce up to 70% of marine fish landings.


On its website, the Fisheries Department says it is in the midst of its Fleet Modernisation and Mechanisation Programme, as announced in Budget 2021.


“The government had announced an allocation for RM150mil from the National Food Security Policy and the Agriculture Ministry to fund this modernisation programme for vessels operating in Zones A and B.


“This fund will provide relief for artisanal fishermen and vessel owners to upgrade to better equipment that is also more environment-friendly to increase fish landings.


“This will increase efficiency and optimise resource allocation and increase safety and catch quality, thus directly increasing incomes for those operating in Zones A and B.


Globally, composite materials are increasingly being used in fishing vessels of various sizes up to 25m, while steel is usually used on vessels longer than 25m.

Modern fishing vessels will enhance the livelihood and quality of life with improved catch, leading to higher incomes for fishermen.

Artisanal fishermen also appreciate upgrading


A traditional fishermen for the last 42 years, Haris Abdullah says he is really looking forward to assistance to replace his decrepit fibreglass boat.


Says the 61-year-old from Penang island’s Kampung Sungai Batu, seasoned fishermen can see how some foreign-made fibreglass boats sport a very high level of finish.

Haris: Fibreglass fishing boats come in various levels of quality and durability, and Malaysia should move towards excellence in this area.

“From the outward appearance, it can be seen the finishing is a notch above. But we are not arguing that foreign boats are necessarily more durable than locally made ones,” says the fisherman whose 20-year-old boat is pretty much near the end of its useful life.


“We understand there are various levels of quality within fibreglass boats, and we really hope that someone will step up to help us obtain suitable replacements,” says Haris, who is hopeful that authorities will provide him with a new boat and engine once the Penang South Reclamation project is approved.


He says the effect of a better vessel with larger engines is huge.


“We can see fishermen operating from southern Kedah making regular interstate runs into northern Perak waters (easily covering 70km one way) using 30-footers mated to 150hp motors,” he notes.


Fajinah Jaafar, 60, from nearby Permatang Tepi Laut, is also pleading for help as she is nursing a 40-year-old 22-foot long fibreglass boat, which she says is almost “ready to fall apart” at any time.


“My dream boat is a 27-footer, powered by a 115hp engine.


“There are many days where I severely limit my fishing range as I am afraid of not being able to navigate strong waves, or flee impending bad weather,” says the mother of two.


She adds that there are hundreds more like her in the southern part of Penang island who are silently praying for assistance to address their plight.

Fajinah: Having quality boats backed by suitably powered engines will make a huge difference for subsistence fishermen such as her.

“A larger boat will allow me to bring more fishing gear to catch a greater variety of marine life, while a more powerful motor allows me to reach fishing grounds faster, or go further than my normal operational zone, thus allowing me to have a better shot at improving my livelihood,” she says.

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