KUALA LUMPUR • Hundreds of fishermen from Penang and Perak yesterday gathered near Malaysia's Parliament in Kuala Lumpur to protest against plans for three man-made islands at the border of the two northern states, which they say will curtail the livelihoods of about 10,000 colleagues.
The Penang South Reclamation project, in limbo since 2015, was approved by the Department of Environment (DoE) last week, with 72 conditions. When completed, the three artificial islands totalling 1,821ha in Teluk Kumbar will be larger than the Forest City development close to the Johor-Singapore border. Proceeds from their sale are expected to fund the RM46 billion (S$15.3 billion) Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).
"Our catch will be reduced because the reclamation will ruin the seabed. Prices of seafood will soar," Consumers Association of Penang president Mohideen Abdul Kader told the rally gathered at the National Monument, half a kilometre from the Parliament building.
The group later marched to Parliament to hand over a memorandum containing their demands. These include the cancellation of the reclamation, a review of the PTMP and a moratorium on sand mining off Perak's coast.
"Why would we agree if our rice bowl is filled with sand?" Penang Fishermen's Association chairman Nazri Ahmad told the rally.
More than 200 fishermen had travelled south to the capital Kuala Lumpur by bus overnight and were joined by environmental activists, swelling the crowd to over 400.
Civil society leaders have said the reclamation will damage the marine ecology in the surrounding waters of the Malacca Strait, while the transport master plan will do the same to the island state's environment without properly solving its traffic woes.
The PTMP is Malaysia's most expensive infrastructure plan to date; it involves highways, an undersea tunnel and rail links which the Penang government says are necessary to prepare for future development and a growing population.
Despite the DoE approval, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters yesterday that the government will look into the fishermen's grouses and "if it is as they said, we will take immediate action".
Agriculture and Agro-Based Industries Minister Salahuddin Ayub also assured the fishermen that the federal government will take all stakeholders' interests into account before approving the Penang state administration's plans.
"This issue involves many other ministries, such as environment and transport. There is no decision yet on this project as we are awaiting reports from various parties," he said after meeting protest leaders in Parliament.
Mr Mohideen told the minister that Penang state, which comprises Penang island and territory on the mainland of Peninsular Malaysia, was not short of land. "I don't see any benefit to Penang because it doesn't need more land. There is a lot of land across the bridge. Thousands of acres. We should balance development between the island and the mainland," he said.
The PTMP had failed to take off when it was first mooted by the state government led by then-opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), allegedly due to obstruction by the Barisan Nasional federal government which held power over financial, transport planning and environmental approvals.
After the change in government last May, DAP became part of the federal administration, paving the way for the plan to proceed.