Gard reminder on anchoring in Malaysian Waters off East Johor

Norway-based Gard has released an alert, with details supplied by Jeremy Joseph and Matthew Van Huizen of Joseph & Partners, which reminds Gard members of the current situation regarding anchoring off the Malaysian coast.

Gard noted that during the past few weeks several vessels entered with Gard had been detained and fined by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) for anchoring in East Johor waters without the requisite permissions from the authorities.

Malaysian authorities recently began a special operation – Jangkar Haram – which targeted ships that had anchored in waters off East Johor without prior written permission from the Director General of the Malaysian Marine Department.

Gard said that in nearly all the cases it had handled, mariners had mistakenly understood their anchoring position to be outside Malaysian territorial waters. Gard’s local correspondent, Spica reported in a recent circular that these waters were sometimes referred to as Singapore OPL East, or sometimes even International waters.

Gard said that, once a vessel had been detained, owners could expect several investigative steps to be taken by the MMEA:

The Master and Chief Officer/Chief Engineer would usually be taken ashore to MMEA’s office to give their statements. They could expect to be questioned about their qualifications and experience, voyage details, and the reasons for anchoring at the location they selected.

The crew’s passports and ship’s documents would be confiscated by MMEA.

Owners would have to appoint a local Malaysian agent. Gard recommended that the owner’s representative (local agent, correspondent, or a lawyer) accompany the crew member when the statement is being taken by the MMEA investigating officer.

An owners’ local representative would be able to assist with translating into English the questions asked by the investigating officer into English, as well as deal with the authorities on behalf of the owners, said Gard.

The insurer said that it understood that investigations could take anywhere between one and three days, sometimes longer, and owners might have to make arrangements, through their local agents, for overnight stays ashore for the Master.

Once crew statements had been taken the MMEA would hand the case over to the Marine Department. For the purposes of securing the release of the vessel a hearing might be fixed before the magistrate. Owners would usually be represented by a lawyer at the hearing and would be required to pay a bond to release the vessel, under section 413 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).

The bond would be paid by a fixed deposit through opening an account under the name of the Court appointed bailor – usually the local agent.

Once the bond has been paid and ship’s documents returned to the vessel, the vessel could be released. Subsequently a decision can be taken by the owners whether to admit liability and pay a lower penalty in exchange for admitting liability for the charges, or whether to dispute the charges. The maximum fine for each offence is MYR100,000 $24,000).

The entire process of getting the vessel released could take anything from a few days to a few weeks.

Gard advised hat vessels obtain through their local agents a copy of the Malaysian 1979 Territorial Waters Chart.

If anchoring in locations within the purported boundaries of the 1979 Territorial Waters Chart, Gard advised that owners appoint a local agent in Malaysia.

Mariners should check with the appointed local agents that the Director of Marine had been informed before anchoring, and written permission obtained.

Gard warned that fines of this nature might not be covered by Gard under P&I Rule 47 and therefore could fall outside P&I cover. However, if a vessel was detained or arrested, Gard encouraged members to get in touch with the insurer for assistance.