More ship detentions in Malaysia

Position of the general cargo vessel, Anet, off the coast of Malaysia. Credit: IHS Markit AISLive ship tracking portal

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) appears to be, with growing frequency, detaining merchant ships for lacking proper anchorage documentation.

SAS has been told that Malaysia’s de facto coastguard may be appearing to be more active in order to justify its operating budget.

A scan of Malaysian news reports shows that since December 2019, at least six vessels have been detained by the MMEA for not having permission to anchor in local waters.

In the most recent of cases, Anet, a 12,080-dwt general cargo ship managed by Wagenborg, was detained on 8 January 2020 for anchoring 22 n miles (22 km) southwest of Pulau Kendi, an islet off Penang. The ship, built in 2010, was on its way to Batu Ampar. According to IHS Markit’s AISLive ship tracking portal, the vessel remains off the coast of Malaysia at anchor.

Prior to Anet, the Ocean Gull tanker was detained 26 n miles off Penang on 5 January 2020. The tanker is owned by Ocean Tankers, the shipping arm of Singapore-based oil trader Hin Leong.

Jane’s principal defence analyst Ridzwan Rahmat told SAS that the MMEA has been more proactive in publicising its operations. He said, “This has to do with the agency being re-assigned to the Ministry of Home Affairs, with the change in Malaysia’s ruling party in May 2018.”

Following a stunning victory over long-time incumbent Barisan Nasional party, Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan formed Malaysia’s present government in May 2018.

Rahmat explained, “It is not that there were no vessel detentions previously, but that the MMEA is now more proactive in publicising its activities. The agency also has Twitter accounts to feature their activities and is reaching out more to the public. The MMEA is now a lot more high-profile compared with previous leadership.”

“Coming under the Ministry of Home Affairs means that the MMEA will have to compete with other agencies under the same ministry for an operating budget. MMEA traditionally inherits older vessels from the navy, but the agency is fighting for newer vessels and more budget,” he said.

Coastguards’ area of purview is typically a 12 n mile radius from the shore and littoral waters, whereas navies can act within a 200 n mile radius from the shore. Due to this, navies tend to be equipped with larger and modern vessels.

“Therefore, conducting more high-profile activities, such as detaining ships, will justify the MMEA’s operating budget,” Rahmat concluded.