Yesterday, I travelled back to Sarawak for a short break. Fallen asleep as soon as my flight took off, I woke up about 15 minutes to arrival.
I peered out of the window of the aircraft and saw this huge expanse of water which now we know as South China Sea.
I could make out several boats surfing through the waters. Their intentions unknown, and far high in the sky, it would be difficult to discern their intention.
I could not help the feeling that any one of these many boats I've just seen here are pirates. And herein lies the threat to our way of life, our sovereignty.
In my past articles, I've covered how our Navy has now become a mere shadow of itself. The mismanagement by one man, Amin Shah, chairman of PSC Naval Dockyard was well covered and was also proven as it became part of PAC review. Despite allegations of embezzlement, he was never prosecuted and is still walking as a free man.
However, it was not juicy enough for opposition as Amin Shah could not be connected to any BN potential future PM, and Amin Shah's apparent link to one of their own top guns complicated things. So they rather let off this confirmed embezzlement and pick up an ostensibly embezzled procurement of Scorpene submarines as it could be linked to the then future Prime Minister. The stories I have also covered before. (Note: BN is also equally guilty for allowing this travesty of justice to continue.)
With the Navy lacking ships to patrol the seas, existing ships and boats were pushed beyond limits. In one incident, KD Pari sank as soon it reached the harbours of one of our forward operations bases in South China Sea after trying to pursue and interdict a Chinese naval ship.
And it was soon after that we began using CB90 Combat boats to conduct resupply to our forward operations bases. This had culminated in at least 1 known incident of CB90 nearly being lost at seas. Read here.
As one by one of our Navy's ships succumbed to high operational tempo, they had to be taken out for SLEP or service life extension programme. Simply putting it, a massive overhaul.
But these many of these SLEP seems to take too long of a time to be completed.
A certain source of mine mentioned that a civilian boat would require only maximum of 3 months to complete their SLEP. But our Navy took a year, even longer in certain cases.
I should have realised that was the case. 3 years back, the Navy was cited by the Auditor-General for utilising only a paltry sum of its budgeted cost for ration.
As the issue was twisted out of context, everyone was looking at it from a political angle; money had been requested but not utilised.
It was a simple operational issue, which I did highlight in an article which I had published in DSGC. Refer to point 4 in the article. But in my own haste, I missed it.
This has resulted in the rise of piracy attacks in the region. Cargo ships coming from Singapore and Riau risked being hijacked as soon as they leave the safety zone covered by Republic of Singapore Navy and Coast Guards. But at least in 1 case, the hijacking had actually occurred within Singapore's waters.
The threat posed by these pirates are real and apparent. As their activities put a choke around the economic activities in the region, cost of shipping may increase and supplies can't be safely moved around.
Global trade worth USD5 trillion goes through this region, and having these pirates around will affect the trade. A blog on logistics, Xeneta claims the trade volume going through the area actually reached 70% of global trade. This was probably the real cause for China's PLA - Navy to expand their operational area into the region, which in turn placed them in a direct confrontation with our military forces.
But what a skeleton force can do to protect our waters.
This I would have to give credit to DS Hishammuddin as I have learnt that he has a direct channel to the Chinese political pulitburo. Learning from his cousin, the channel was put to a great use. However, I could not further elaborate on those.
But of course, along the way there were people who tried to milk the situation by highlighting the issue out loud, especially with the issue of Beting Serupai. A certain minister had handled the situation very poorly and had made the whole establishment looked like a laughing stock. I'm now observing the minister's action as he seems to hellbent to get agencies under him to procure more ships, even those without any legitimate policing capabilities. I need not to name the person, as it is already rather obvious.
I was worried most with the potential threat from China. With the Mischief Reef and Fiery Reef under their control becoming a thorn in their relationship with the Philippines, I was very concerned if the issue would end up with escalation. (Previous article on this issue can be found here).
With the United States trying to exert it's influence in this issue, I was pensive for several weeks. So when we confirmed the purchase of Gowind LCS last year, attempts by some opposition supporters to put the purchase in a negative limelight made me snapped and answered them rather harshly.
What I didn't share back then was not only South China Sea had became the playground for whatever is left of our Navy, but also to Japanese Navy, Australian Navy, and even Indian Navy.
But the Philippines election of Rodrigo Durterte as their president, things became apparent. His olive branch to China had effectively deescalated the tension. Now Filipino fishermen are allowed to return to areas near Mischief Reef for fishing.
And I was caught by surprise that we would be buying navy ships from China in an attempt to revitalise the Navy.
A revitalised RMN is not only in the interest of Malaysia, but also to China as the main beneficiary of improved maritime security in the region. the region's key stakeholder.
And these are why we fight for our Navy.