Fishermen, restaurant owners in Johor's Pasir Gudang hit hard by pollution

Emergency personnel wearing protective suits checking the air quality in Pasir Gudang, on June 25, 2019.
Emergency personnel wearing protective suits checking the air quality in Pasir Gudang, on June 25, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

JOHOR BARU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Fishermen in Johor's Pasir Gudang district, where dozens of people fell sick due to toxic fumes in the past week, want the state government to come out with an assurance that all seafood products in Pasir Gudang are safe, as yet another pollution incident in the area affected prices.

One of them, Mr Erman Zainal, 45, said business had been declining since the Sungai Kim Kim river pollution incident in March, forcing them to focus only on their loyal customers.

He said he hoped the government would step in to help the fishermen.

A recent visit by The Star to Kampung Pasir Gudang Baru fishermen's market found the usually busy place quiet and devoid of customers, although there were fresh fish on display.

Johor Fishermen's Association (Josfa) chairman Mohamad Dolmat said the state has enough experts who can conduct research to find out immediately whether the marine life in Pasir Gudang is safe for consumption or not.

"Although it's only air pollution, the public's perception is that it covers all, due to the previous Sungai Kim Kim incident," he said.

"The associations cannot be the ones doing the promotions and giving assurance because the public would only think of us as trying to promote our products," he said when met at Josfa's Kota Puteri office.

 
 

"But if the government thinks that the fish here are contaminated and fishermen should lay off first as research is being conducted, we will comply," he said.

More than 100 students were affected last week and early this week by the noxious fumes that caused vomiting and breathing difficulties. All educational institutions have been ordered to be closed since the latest incident, which appeared to be similar to the Sungai Kim Kim cases. 

The authorities have yet to identify the cause of the ailments and Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said on Wednesday (June 26) that after investigating all possible indicators, there has been no link found between the two incidents. 

South Johor Fishermen's Association chairman Azli Mohamad Aziz said the repeat pollution in Pasir Gudang has hampered the area's fish market recovery process.

"Before Sungai Kim Kim, our fishermen could make about RM1,000 (S$325) a month, but after the incident, our income has become unstable, with our overall market performance having dropped about 40 per cent."

RESTAURANT OWNERS WORRIED

Many restaurant owners here are concerned that the second wave of pollution will badly affect their business.

Ms Rorusani Ngah, who operates a food stall not far from Sekolah Agama Taman Mawar, in the Taman Mawar area where cases were first reported last Thursday, claimed that since the pollution happened, her business has suffered.

 
 

"The people are afraid to come, fearing that they may get sick from breathing the air here or get food poisoning," she said.

"It is very disheartening for us, as we have built our small business for years, only to have it destroyed by a crisis caused by someone else," she said when met at her shop on Wednesday.

Ms Rorusani, 60, hoped that the situation would recover soon and the people could go about their usual routine without fear again.

Restaurant owner Saidin Sidek, 51, said that he was puzzled and upset by the latest air pollution incident. "What happened to all the promises and assurances during the last pollution?

"The rules and regulations are already there but there is a lack of enforcement. As a result, we have to suffer not just in terms of health but also our livelihood," he said.

Mr Saidin said the three-day closure of schools had affected his business, as a lot of his customers were teachers and staff.

Another restaurant owner, Mr Low Let Moi, 55, said he had to shut his outlet for five days during the Sungai Kim Kim pollution incident in March.

"We cannot afford to have this happening time and time again," he said. "I hope the government can come up with a long-term solution to address pollution issues as this is an industrial area."

The March incident forced the closure of 111 schools in Pasir Gudang and prompted the authorities to launch an intensive clean-up of the river and inspections of other sites where chemicals had been illegally stored and dumped. 

Four individuals, including two Singaporeans, have been charged for their alleged involvement in the case. Three of them are directors of a used tyre processing company and the other is a lorry driver.