Johor MB says he does not need Malaysia ministry's nod to visit vessel off Tuas

Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian said his visit to the crewmen on board the MV Pedoman was because they had been there for more than a month.
Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian said his visit to the crewmen on board the MV Pedoman was because they had been there for more than a month.PHOTO: ST FILE

KOTA TINGGI • Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian said he does not need the "blessing" of Malaysia's Foreign Ministry to carry out his duties as the state's chief minister, as he defended himself for making a visit on Jan 9 to waters off Tuas.

Malaysia's Foreign Ministry in a statement on Friday denied that Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah had given Datuk Osman his "unofficial blessing" to board MV Pedoman, a Malaysian Marine Department vessel anchored off Tuas, in what Malaysia claims is its territory under Johor Baru port.

Singapore, on the other hand, has asserted that the area is part of its territorial waters.

Mr Osman said yesterday: "I have said it earlier, and I will say it again. My visit to MV Pedoman was because the crewmen had been there for more than a month.

"I was acting in my capacity as the state leader and the visit was within Johor waters even though the Foreign Ministry claimed that it did not have their blessing.

"Let's say, if I wanted to make a visit within the Johor district, do I need permission from the Home Ministry?"

On Thursday, Mr Osman claimed that he had the "unofficial blessing" of Datuk Saifuddin to board the vessel.

 
 

But Malaysia's Foreign Ministry denied approving his trip, saying on Friday that "upon learning of the planned visit from a Malaysian enforcement agency on the morning of Jan 9 itself", it "immediately and repeatedly contacted the chief minister's office and conveyed a message not to proceed with the visit".

Mr Osman's action resulted in the postponement of the Jan 14 meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia, as Singapore said that the intrusion made holding the bilateral talks "untenable".

The Menteri Besar also sits on the panel.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad also confirmed on Friday that "the Menteri Besar went without our permission", adding that "he thought it was Johor waters, that's why he went there".

Tun Dr Mahathir described Singapore's reaction as quite severe, "as if you are going to war".

The Malaysian Foreign Ministry said the two countries will discuss bilateral maritime issues on Jan 28.

Officials will discuss airspace concerns in the "coming weeks", including the Instrument Landing System and approach procedures for Seletar Airport.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2019, with the headline 'Johor MB says he does not need KL ministry's nod to visit vessel off Tuas'. Print Edition | Subscribe