PUTRAJAYA: Some 3,500 Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) personnel will be on duty during Ramadan and Hari Raya Aidilfitri to safeguard Malaysian waters.

Codenamed Op Pagar Laut, operations will focus on preventing the entry and exodus of illegal immigrants from early Ramadan up until two weeks after Hari Raya.

Newly-appointed MMEA director-general Maritime Admiral Datuk Zulkifli Abu Bakar said his men would ensure that those who attempted to enter or flee the country were brought to justice.

“As I have said before, there are some who have the opinion that if they (illegal immigrants) want to leave, let them leave. I feel that is incorrect; as for maritime, we will carry out our duties according to the law.

“If we succumb to such lacklustre attitude, we may face more incidents of capsized boats and loss of lives as most boats ferrying illegal immigrants do not have any safety measures in place,” he told a press conference after presenting Hari Raya goodies to MMEA personnel yesterday.

The agency has also identified hot spots at several entry and exit points in the country, including along the Strait of Malacca and the stretch from Selangor to Johor, added Zulkifli.

“We encountered cases where illegal immigrants were arrested or involved in capsized boat incidents near Port Klang along with Linggi, Batu Pahat and Pengerang in Johor.

“We will keep a close eye at such places,” he said, adding that some 28 vessels will be deployed during the period.

Zulkifli also said his priority was to prevent the smuggling of contraband into the country, including illicit cigarettes.

He added that cases of foreign fishermen encroaching into Malaysian waters were also a major concern.

“We have already recorded 30 cases, including 14 in Tanjung Sedili, Johor.

“We will step up patrols and increase cooperation with other enforcement agencies,” he said.

On a separate matter, Zulkifli said the agency had launched a search-and-rescue operation for two missing individuals after an Indonesian cargo vessel sank off Tanjung Keling in Melaka.

“We received a report from the Marine Department at about 9.25am yesterday that container vessel KM Avatar was partially submerged about 11 nautical miles from Tanjung Keling.

“Through information that MMEA obtained, 13 people were rescued by the vessel MV Undine that was near the area during the time of the incident,” he said.

He added that based on information from one of those rescued, two other individuals – believed to be the captain and the cook of the ship – were also missing. – The Star

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