Sipadan Damage Contractor Gets Off With Apology

The Sipadan controversy continues to rage with the contractor responsible for causing huge damage to the reef getting off with an apology and the Malaysian Deputy Chief Minister accusing the foreign press of exaggerating the damage.

The Sipadan saga continues and there’s still no good news; not only has the contractor whose barge destroyed 370 square metres of Sipadan’s reef been allowed to get away with it after apologising and promising to clean up the damage, but one of Malaysia’s ministers has lashed out at foreign media for “exaggerating the damage”

Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat said “Actually the area affected was just 3,984 square feet (372.2 square metres),” Chong said. “We thank them (foreign media) for their concern. But stop the exaggeration. Be rational. Malaysians and Sabahans especially are as concerned as anybody (else) in the world when it comes to conservation and preservation of the environment.” Quite how the Minister kept a straight face saying that after presiding after the worse coral reef disaster in Malaysia in years, and one that was wholly preventable, is unclear.

It smacks of a whitewash and an attempt to pretend the whole thing never happened. There’s no mention of new safeguards to prevent something similar occuring, and no mention of stopping all building on Sipadan – only a “suspension”. It appears that it will be business as usual and the Minister’s main concern is to play down the damage reports and keep the tourists coming in to drive the local economy. The local dive shops have released a statement praising the “infrastructure” effort, which looks set to ensure a restaurant will open on Sipadan. As I’ve noted elsewhere, why divers can’t simply go to Kapalai or Mabul between dives, two full blown resorts with complete facilities only 15 minutes boat ride away, is unclear.

What saddens me most about this is not necessarily the damage to the reef – it’s the seemingly indifferent attitude of those who have the influence over the future of Sipadan. There seems to be a collective shrug of the shoulders rather than a concerted effort to ensure something like this can’t happen again. Removing all the dive operators from Sipadan a couple of years ago was a bold and much-needed move – now all the good work the government set in motion by doing that has been allowed to slide until the neglect resulted in this mess.

UPDATE: I missed the much more sane response of the Malaysian opposition minister Christina Liew which was reported on 18th May by CDNN. Liew argued what I’ve said above – that the “no buildings” policy on Sipadan, barely 2 years old, has been unilaterally discarded and resulted in this disaster. It’s great to see someone in a position of influence state the reality of the situation rather than hectoring the foreign press and blaiming others.

[Thanks to for their up to the minute reporting on the Sipadan fallout. Divester has a take on the Minister’s comments too].

PreviouslY; Sipadan Island Reef Disaster; Borneo Diving: Sipadan – A Dive Report (pre-coral reef destruction)

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  1. In Chong’s defense, reports circulated in Kuala Lumpur that the damaged area was 2-3 square *kilometers*. Considering he’s trying to save his own hide, er, I mean, manage fallout, it makes sense that Chong’d lash out against the press.

    Nevertheless, it’s clear that very little is being done. Construction has been halted, and that’s good, but to secure a promise from the contractor to clean up the mess sounds like continued damage just waiting to happen. (Uh…how do I use a bulldozer underwater?) Okay, so maybe I’m being harsh, but I think that if Malaysia wanted to *seem* like they cared about the damage, they could do so very easily. A few press conferences is not the answer, however. I’m thinking about hiring qualified specialists to (a) inspect the damage and (b) clean up the debris. Shy of that, I’m convinced it’s theater.

  2. You’re so right about the clean up operation Willy. It’s pretty terrifying that they would even consider letting the guys who caused the problem loose on the reef to “clean” it. I imagine they’ll do even more damage which will go unreported.

    The whole debate about the size of the area affected at Sipadan seems crazy to me – whichever way you cut it, it’s the obliteration of a key reef at Sipadan – it’s like wiping out Koh Bon or Richelieu Rock in the Similan Islands. To make out that somehow it is not a disaster because it didn’t destroy the whole island is simply disingenous. It’s like chopping off someone’s hand and saying, “Well, you’ve still got 95 per cent of everything else working…”