I suggest, go make a cup of tea or coffee, this report is going to be interesting and make take a while to read.
We all had an amazing weekend right up to about 11am Sunday. We left Singapore’s Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal (TMFT) Friday night, as per usual and on Saturday morning, headed straight to Tioman to clear in and out of Malaysia immigration.
We had 5 awesome dives at Tioman.
We dived Renggis, Chebah, Labas, Sipadan Wreck and we did a night dive too.
The beautiful cuttlefish opposite was seen on the night dive, by Glenn’s group.
All the sites were awesome, but the schooling blue trevally from the previous weekend have pretty much disappeared.
I had a fun weekend conducting SDI Open Water Course with two kids and two adults. There was another kid on board who was just snorkelling and all three kids entertained us all weekend (even when we were stuck in Mersing – more on that later). All four students did a brilliant job and were good divers by the end of the weekend.
Well done, Oliver, Elodie, Leah and Amelia on completing your SDI Open Water Certifications.
Glenn was conducting PADI Rescue Diver with Jill and Cedric.
It was fun to sit back and have a good laugh at Jill trying to straddle Cedric up the ladder on the back of the boat.
Both Jill and Cedric did really well too.
And Dive Master Andy was leading Rafeal, Ann Nee, Jasmin and Julian.
On Saturday night we enjoyed the famous Seaborne BBQ, but there was no way we could finish all the food. The kids did not eat much and we had three late cancellations which meant we had a second BBQ on Sunday on route to Mersing.
Our last dive of the weekend was at Jack Rock and if you have read my last few reports.
Jack has been amazing and Sunday was the same.
But all happy faces were removed when the MV Seaborne was boarded by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MEA) for a so called “routine check”. I have never had a routine check in the last 10 years of diving Jack Rock.
After about an hour of checking passports and other paperwork, we were escorted to Mersing, some 4 hours away. Arriving at around 3pm the boat was docked and the MV Seaborne’s Captain was taken away, along with all our passports.
I was called to the MEA office around 4.15pm. I was told “we were conducting illegal diving in the state of Johor, Malaysia”. The room I was in, with the Captain from the MV Seaborne and 10 MEA officers, was like something from the 80’s. Every single person was smoking and the room was like Jack Rock on a bad day. I could hardly breathe nor see.
We leave Singapore Friday night and clear in and out of Malaysia at Tioman Saturday morning. This has been the accepted practice for many years. We dive Tioman on Saturday and then on Sunday we dive around Aur or Tinggi.
Tioman is in the state of Pahang and Aur and Tinggi are in the state of Johor. The Sultan of Johor was recently at Aur and did not like the number of divers and the amount of broken coral. So he instantly cracked down on all diving and the blitz began.
We were unfortunately the prize catch for the Mersing MEA (as we were diving at the time of their boarding). We were detained in Mersing Sunday night. We were only allowed to leave Monday afternoon. This was the result of diving in in the state Johor, after clearing in and out of Malaysia in the state of Pahang (Tioman).
After hearing all this I asked by my customers, “What now? How do we dive here, again?” In a short reply, “We can’t.” So that may have been the last dive at Jack Rock for some time.
The MEA officers then went on to explain that they needed statements from 5 people before we could leave the boat. I suggested that I go and get four more people. They then insisted it was too late. They were not allowed to take statements after 5pm. I said it was only 4.30pm and I had 3 kids that needed to get to school and one guy that had a 9.30 am flight tomorrow and the rest needed to get to work.
The MEA officers listened and I pleaded many times, but they refused to take our statements. So I now had the unpleasant task of advising my customers of an unscheduled night in Mersing.
We arranged for a security guard for the boat and then proceeded to have a pizza party.
Then we moved everyone off the boat to a nearby hotel for their safety. Mersing is not the safest place.
The MEA advised that the 5 people submitting reports must be at the MEA officer at 8am Monday morning and we were. Then we waited until 8.30am before being moved upstairs. Then we waited until 9am before the first person was called, I volunteered.
The investigating officer was about 20 years old. After a few minutes of shuffling paper he handed me a blank piece of paper and asked me to write down my name, passport details, address and a statement of what happened from Sunday when they boarded. So I did.
Then he asked me a few more questions and I answered them. At one stage I could see he was using his computer to translate Malay words into English and everything was written on paper and not entered into a computer. He asked if the boat was anchored at Jack Rock. I replied that it wasn’t and the boat was just waiting for us to finish our dive and then it would pick us up. Many similar questions followed. He even asked if our boat was floating. I did not have a response for that, then he changed the subject.
Two other MEA officers arrived and started to interview the others. One person was also asked if the boat was floating too. My name came up a few times as the person allowing diving at Jack Rock and of course they had to say, “yes”.
So after all the statements were taken, I was called to the “big office” and was advised that our case had been escalated. They had decided to let us go, yippee! But now we had to solve the immigration issue. Remember, we had already cleared in and out of Malaysia at Tioman and they were holding our passports.
The prearranged bus to get us home to Singapore was of course running on Malaysian time and was no were to be seen at 1pm. It arrived at 1.30pm. Just prior to this I learnt that the MV Seaborne would not be released for some time. Thanks to Andy’s great idea, I moved all my dive gear off the MV Seaborne to a nearby hotel room, well not me really, the MV Seaborne boat boys did the job, because I had to join the bus to Mersing immigration.
All my dive gear was on the MV Seaborne because we have been doing back to back trips. I was worried that if they impounded the boat I would lose all my gear. Andy could see me trying to pack some gear to carry through immigration when he had the idea to store it in the hotel room. Thanks Slim!
The Seaborne is still being held at Mersing, when it will be released is unknown at this stage (21/05/13)
So with the dive gear all sorted, and 14 people on the bus, I heard a little cheer. I quickly said, “We are not out of this yet, we don’t have passports or a passage home.”
We arrived at Mersing immigration and of course it was lunch time. I told everyone to wait in the bus, I will sort this out. The agent we had to help us, sorted things and left. He said you just wait ah….wait I did. He left at 2pm and we got our (Identity Cards) ICs and Green Cards back at 3.45pm. Then at 4pm we were handed an envelope with all our passports inside. The sealing of the envelope consisted of glue, staples more glue and tape. We were told not to open the envelope but hand it to the officer at Johor Bahru (JB). We kinda figured that out, considering the sealing took 3o minutes. The officers in JB could not open the envelope for a while. Was some what amusing to watch 4 people trying open en envelope.
Once again we are back on the bus and everyone was happy to be underway. Again I said, “It’s not over yet, we still have to get out of here.” 3 hours into the bus ride the girls played a song in my ear from their iPhone and it was…”We wanna pee we wanna pee, please stop the bus for us.” I also needed to pee and beat all of them to the toilet.
I was expecting the worst at JB. I handed over the sealed envelope at 7pm. I thought, “Here we go, another 2-3 hour wait.” But it only took 30 minutes and we were out of Malaysia. I breathed a sigh of relief when I got my passport back and was free to go home.
I was so happy to see the Singapore immigration and finally end the “Malaysia Truly Asia” experience.
Finally to all the people on board, again I am very thankful for understanding during the situation and helping me through the ordeal. I did my 100% best to get you guys home as fast as I could.
Sorry again. Gary
Diving in Malaysia – Recent Changes
(Dayang, Aur and Jack Rock dive sites)
New regulations were implemented last weekend by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.
Previously, all Live On-board Boats ex Singapore, who intended to dive in Malaysian waters, cleared in and out of immigration at Tioman Island. This process was completed within a few hours and enabled Live On-board Boats and their customers to remain and legally dive within Malaysian waters for the weekend. This has been the common practice for the past 20 years.
The Sultan of Johor was recently diving at Pulau Aur. He noticed a high number of scuba divers and coral damage. The Sultan of Johor ruled that any form of diving in the state of Johor is forbidden if the tourist has already cleared out of the immigration checkpoint at Tioman Island.
These changes were given without warning and are effective immediately. Further to this, dive vessels can not pass through the state of Johor without first clearing Malaysian immigration. This means all Live On-board Boats are now required to clear into Malaysia at Tanjong Penelih, which is about 4 hours from the Singapore departure point.
Tioman is in the state of Pahang and can only be accessed by passing through the state of Johor when travelling from Singapore.
This new regulation will have an impact on Live On-boat Boat schedules.
GS-Diving customers currently booked on Malaysian up and coming dive trips, will be emailed separately with the new diving schedules, over the next few days.
Additional photos from the trip can be found on our Facebook page – please click here