‘Read between the lines’

A view of the sea from Talang Talang Besar Island. At a time when land resources are depleting and the world is getting smaller, many are eyeing marine resources and the seabed.

Commentary

SARAWAK Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg recently announced that the Luconia Shoals has been gazetted as a marine national park.

The Luconia Shoals lies on the Sunda Continental Shelf and is between 163km and 180km from Sarawak’s shoreline, within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Sarawak.

Abang Johari stressed that the Luconia Shoals was effectively now under Sarawak’s administration, and the state would protect and preserve it as a national park.

“It is ours. It contains you know what … this thing that we have been fussing over about — oil. We don’t take the gas, but we gazette it as a national park, meaning the fringes okay.

“We will try to explore it (oil and gas) because we already have licensing rights. Sarawak has exclusive licensing rights of our oil and gas, meaning we also want to protect our national park and our assets.

“We are also going to take a comprehensive approach — a smart management of our national park,” he said when officiating at a ceremony to hand over a solar system from Sarawak Energy to Sarawak Forestry Corporation.

As he brought up the issue of Sarawak’s exclusive rights over oil and gas, the media sensed there was much left unsaid. A press conference was requested and Abang Johari readily obliged. When prodded, he denied that gazetting the Luconia Shoals had anything to do with the Oil Mining Ordinance 1958 (OMO).

When pressed on why he had to bring up the issue of Sarawak’s exclusive rights over oil and gas when laying claim on the Shoals, he replied, “Because there are a lot of people who wanted to claim it, as you know. So we said,’This is ours’.”

When the media pressed further on whom he was referring to, whether it was foreign powers or Petronas, he merely replied: “You read between the lines”.

As the state’s chief executive refused to spell it out clearly who was trying to lay their hands on the Luconia Shoals, it left room for speculations.

Of course, the first one that comes to mind is Petronas, which is fully controlled by the federal government. This is because there are speculations that buried below the Luconia Shoals are extensive oil and gas reserves. That being the case, it would not be surprising that Petronas would be eager to explore the area, especially when there are already a number of Petronas oil and gas platforms located less than 25km from the Luconia Shoals.

At a time when Sarawak and the federal government are disputing over exclusive rights over oil and gas in Sarawak — with Sarawak citing the OMO while the federal government the Petroleum Development Act 1974 — the gazetting of the Luconia Shoals is perhaps an attempt by Sarawak to protect its oil and gas resources before Petronas lays claim over it.

Over the years, without the realisation of Sarawakians, Parliament has been enacting one law after another to extend their powers and jurisdiction over Sarawak and Sabah and to erode the powers of both states that were enshrined in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

Among the many laws, the Territorial Sea Act 2012 was passed to reduce Sarawak’s and Sabah’s jurisdiction over their seas to three nautical miles or 5.5 km.

While all these were taking place, most Sarawakians and their MPs were in deep slumber. The awakening only came after the former chief minister, the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem, made a few decisive moves, including declaring July 22 as Sarawak’s Independence Day and laying claim on the rights of Sarawak as enshrined in the MA63.

And now, with the full realisation of Sarawak’s rights, Abang Johari is making an attempt to protect the Luconia Shoals before it is exploited too, without the state’s consent.

Will his move be effective? Sarawakians will have to wait and see as it is just part of the larger feud. The big contention now is who has exclusive rights over oil and gas in Sarawak, both onshore and offshore?

The state government’s argument is that the Sarawak Legislative Assembly had never endorsed both PDA 74 and TSA. Both Acts are thus deemed ineffective where Sarawak is concerned. With that, Abang Johari concluded that the Luconia Shoals, together with its oil and gas reserve, belongs to Sarawak.

No one is certain whether the argument is solid. Perhaps it will eventually boil down to a court decision, maybe even in an international court.

Regardless of the outcome, the purpose of this article is to tell Sarawakians that Sarawak’s laying claim on the Luconia Shoals is more than just an effort of environmental conservation and preservation. It is much more than meets the eye.

To understand our rights so as to protect Sarawak better, it is time we all have to learn how to “read between the lines”. — DayakDaily