No naval base in Sarawak: Navy’s Eastern Fleet Commander urges land acquisition to be expedited to build one

Navy officers stand at attention as another vessel approaches. Photos credit: RMN

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By Karen Bong

KUCHING, March 23: Sarawak is the one of the regions in the country without a Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) base, says Commander of the Eastern Fleet, Rear Admiral Dato Sabri Zali.

Sabri urged the Federal and Sarawak governments to approve the allocation and expedite land acquisition to immediately develop such a base, which is crucial to strengthen security and operational controls in Sarawak’s waters.

Sabri pointed out that the Federal government has in fact given commitment to build the naval base (Markas Wilayah Laut 4), while the Sarawak government has recommended an area in Samalaju, Bintulu.

“Currently, the RMN and Defence Ministry is in the final stages of obtaining the land between the Federal and State governments and other agencies involved.

“When this process is completed, then we can start building the naval base (in Bintulu) which hopefully can proceed in the current 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP), while its commissioning can be implemented in the middle of the 13MP,” he told a press conference after officiating at the closing ceremony of the Operational Sea Training Exercise (OSTEX) East Series 1/2022 at a hotel here today.

The OSTEX East training in progress.

Sabri, however, said that the construction of the naval base is not something that can be easily done as many minor and major needs, including basic navy facility requirements must be looked into and finalised.

“The naval base will also require a jetty which cannot simply be constructed at any site. Considerations must be given to depth of water, current flow of water, siltation rate of the area, among others.

“If land acquisition can materialise soon, I believe we can kickstart the project implementation within this 12MP, whether in Rolling Plans 3, 4 or 5, depending on the financial ability of the government,” he explained.

Due to the absence of a naval base, he added that there are no vessels permanently stationed here yet, while it cannot afford to station the fleets in public waters due to the high cost involved.

As such, he emphasised that the establishment of a naval base in Sarawak is necessary and must be given top priority due to the position of Sarawak, especially Beting Patinggi Ali, which is closest to the disputed area in South China Sea.

“The majority of the ships deployed here for operations are from Kota Kinabalu. Sometimes when facing a shortage, we would request for assistance from ships in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Armada Barat (Western Fleet) in cross operations,” he said.

Three navy ships and a helicopter scrutinising the waters during training.

To strengthen security in the country’s waters including Sarawak, Sabri gave assurance that the RMN has fully mobilised all existing assets to carry out round the clock operations throughout the year.

“We have Ops Satria to control Beting Patinggi Ali in northern Sarawak, Ops Sinar Samudera in the Semarang Peninjau Cluster in northwest Kota Kinabalu, Ops Pasir Utara and Ops Pasir Selatan in eastern Sabah waters and Ops Daulat Benua in the waters of Tawau bordering Indonesia.

“Also, along the way from Kota Kinabalu to Beting Patinggi Ali at about 240 nautical miles, ships will stop in offshore oil rigs to check on them as well as to exchange and gather information,” he said.

Navy officers coordinate themselves during a training.

On the OSTEX East exercise, Sabri said although it was successfully carried out, there is still room for improvement in order to strengthen the RMN’s ability to safeguard the security of the country’s waters with existing assets.

Eight RMN vessels including a submarine, a Fennec helicopter, an Unmanned Aerial Surveillance (UAS) Scale Eagle aircraft and two Hawk aircrafts were involved in this exercise in the South China Sea waters that started on March 14.

The exercise was also to showcase the presence of RMN assets in the South China Sea as well as demonstrating that the RMN is always committed to safeguarding the country’s waters.

The OSTEX East training this time around emphasised on skills training such as communication, navigation, warfare and even marine science for the purpose of improving competence of the crew.

It will also be implemented consistently to ensure the level of alertness of the Eastern fleet is always at an optimal level. — DayakDaily

A navy officer prepares for the landing of a helicopter.