National security trumps money

A 2019 file photo of the US Navy littoral combat ship ‘USS Montgomery’ sailing in formation with ASEAN Navy ships during an exercise in the Gulf of Thailand. -AFP photo

By now, the Royal Malaysian Navy (TLDM) has reportedly ordered six new littoral combat ships.

Such vessels would reinforce the existing fleet, playing a complementary role in patrolling our territorial waters. At least five of them should have been launched last month.

In October next year, the sixth ship would also be in service.

Imagine the excitement of the Navy boys!

And think of the psychological effect this would have on the inhabitants of the coasts of the two regions of the Federation – the assurance of safety and the feeling of pride in their own ships.

Would… it doesn’t happen. Despite the fact that a huge amount of money (RM6.038 billion) is said to have changed hands, none of the ships would be launched any time soon. Not for two years, assured Defense Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein.

A real disappointment for taxpayers!

Ship names

The Americans and the British named some of their battleships after their great statesmen or members of royalty.

We name our ships after heroes, real and legendary.

One night I was reading about pre-Malaysian and post-Malaysian heroes until I dozed off.

One of the new ships, named Awang Anak Rawang 3617, was at the port of Senari. Crowds of people braved the drizzle and lined up to board and talk to sailors.

It was so alive, but it was only a dream!

In real life, however, I wish one of the ships was named after Bujang Malaya (the Malay hero) and the winner of the George Cross, the civilian version of the Victoria Cross, the highest honor for gallantry given to the bravest servicemen of any country in the Commonwealth of Nations of which Malaysia is a member.

Just to understand – a ‘Bujang Malaya’ is not a single Malay, he is a soldier from Sarawak, usually Iban, who served in Peninsular Malaysia during the emergency.

Cost overruns

Back to the ships. By the time all of these ships are commissioned and delivered to the Navy, there will likely be cost overruns of at least one billion ringgit. Another hole in the country’s pockets, this financial burden will sooner or later be borne by all Malaysians.

These additional costs would not have been necessary if the choice of shipbuilders had been uncontroversial. The Navy, the end user of ships, should have been allowed to choose the best types of ships and choose their builders carefully. After all, they will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the assets. With all due respect, the politicians should have heeded the views of the Navy.

While the authorities sort out the issues related to the implementation of the project – who should have done what or who shouldn’t have done what – the rest of us need to send a signal to the government. We want these ships to be built and put into service as soon as possible.

Stop procrastinating. Too many national security issues. Ours is the case of safety at all costs.

Qualified sailors

Once we have the ships, we will need a crew. I wonder how many sailors among our Navy boys come from Sarawak and Sabah. I don’t recall hearing or reading about any active campaign to recruit boys from that area into the Navy.

Are the Sarawakians and the Sabahans missing the boat?

Some time ago I met several young Iban boys in Kuching. They were going to work on the derricks overseas; one was en route to Dubai and another further afield towards the Gulf of Mexico. They were divers, machine operators, security guards and cooks.

I asked if any of them wanted to join the Malaysian Navy. Call you Sea Dayaks!

They said they’d rather work in the oil and gas industry – more money and regular days off ashore to spend that wad of cash, some of which to give to wife or mother.

Admiral, please take note: if you can match the pay and conditions, there are plenty of trained and experienced marine technicians available in Sarawak!

Back to the ships. We need it now, to reinforce current assets so that we can be assured of national security. The estimated RM11 billion, including possible overruns, is a lot of money, but the investment in the country’s security is not measured in terms of money alone. The security of our territorial waters and the sovereignty of the country far outweigh spending this money on vital national assets.

Whoever forms Malaysia’s next federal government must ensure that our territorial waters are fully protected from incursions by illegal foreign vessels. Illegal foreign fishermen have been plundering our marine resources for years and we are powerless to do anything except the occasional arrest of fishermen and confiscation of frozen fish.

The presence of coastal vessels in our territorial waters and within our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is therefore vital. Acting in concert with other maritime police and maritime agency vessels, the combat vessels will ensure the safety of our fishermen as well as the territorial integrity of our nation.

The government and the agencies responsible for the effective management and monitoring of the progress of the entire project must ensure that whoever caused the delays in the delivery of the vessels will be dealt with according to law.

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