Cabotage: MASA Chairman says foreign ships “may steal data” from faulty submarine cables. Is that even possible?

Malaysia Shipowners’ Association (MASA) Chairman Datuk Abdul Hak Md Amin has continued to defend the revocation of the cabotage exemption made by Transport Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong for foreign vessels conducting submarine cable repairs. During an interview with Astro Awani, he shared that the cabotage policy has its own benefits when it comes to data security.

He told Awani (12:37 mark) if we look at the security aspect, even if we don’t repair cables, our computers can get hacked. He also said if our undersea cables are broken and other foreign vessels come in, we won’t know if they would steal our data. He added that if we have our own ships, our security can be maintained during repair.

The Chairman emphasised that the cabotage doesn’t prohibit foreign vessels from entering Malaysian waters if there are no ships available locally to carry out the job. He said foreign vessels such as the DP2-capable ASEAN Explorer and ASEAN Restorer were still allowed to enter.

Source: ASEAN Cableship

Abdul Hak said the major complaint previously was the time taken to process the DSL (Domestic Shipping License) which could take up to 25 or 30 days. However, with the new process (eDSL), the time required has been reduced to an average of 3 days.

Despite the eDSL process, the cabotage is still seen as a stumbling block as tech giants such Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft were said to have written to the Prime Minister for help to solve the issue. Based on the sighted letter, they have raised concerns that the cabotage will hamper Malaysia’s MyDigital goals and affect Malaysians and local businesses that rely on the internet for learning, communications and business.

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MASA denies that the cabotage policy is the reason why tech giants exclude Malaysia from its submarine cable projects. Abdul Hak said as a chairman of MASA, it is his responsibility to protect the local shipping industry and similarly, MyIX wants to protect its own members. He said if MyIX wants him to open up the shipping industry, they too should also open up the industry to foreign telcos. He questioned, why not invite Telkomsel, Singtel or NTT to Malaysia and has also urged the tech industry to be realistic. He also suggested that both shipping and tech industries to sit down together and find a solution for the benefit of the country.

We have raised 3 questions on the cabotage issue for Dr Wee Ka Siong last week. However, the minister has yet to respond to our interview request.

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Alexander Wong