LANGKAWI : Many foreign yacht operators who have been living on their boats in Langkawi are forced to set sail – despite dangerous weather conditions – after a sudden notice from Malaysian immigration requesting those with tourist visas to leave the country.
However, unlike departing by air, going off to sea when the winds and waves are against you is a treacherous journey.
As the yachties bid goodbye, one of them, who wanted to be known only as Tanya, told The Vibes that many of them are retired senior citizens in their 80s who have been living on yachts in Langkawi’s marinas for many years.
Others are young couples who just bought a boat and are not used to sailing in difficult conditions.
“People who sail will not set sail at this time of the year, be it north or south, because of the high winds,” said Tanya.
“The only window to sail to another country that will accept us safely is sometime from November,” she said, adding that she also does not understand why the Malaysian government is making them sail from a green zone to a red zone.
However, because of the law, she will be sailing to Thailand in a matter of days, along with 50 other yachts after engaging an agent in Thailand that cost US$3,000 (RM12,300) per boat.
Though the Thai agents will organise everything they need, Tanya said she would rather spend that money here in Malaysia.
“Some elderly people who have boats that are not seaworthy are forced to leave them here, along with their cars or motorcycles, to fly back to their home countries like South Africa, where the Covid-19 numbers are high.
“For us, it will be a five-day sail in horrid weather, and a lot of people are not set up for it as they come to Langkawi to buy boats.
“We are risking our lives,” she said.
The yachties are upset that there is no explanation from the Malaysian government on why they are being kicked out.
They decried their presence here as being considered illegal.
Thailand and Singapore stand to gain
Another yachtie, who wanted to be known only as Harry, shared the experience of his friend, who was forced to leave for Phuket with his Thai partner.
“Our friend, Richard Philips, whose life partner is a Thai woman, went to get their 30-day visa on April 19 to get their boat ready to leave in 30 days.
“However, the Thai embassy did not provide her the needed documentation in time. The immigration officer told her that they were given until April 21 to leave or be arrested and jailed.
“She was considered either a prostitute, scammer, or illegal immigrant when she was none of those,” Harry said.
The couple literally sailed into the storm the next day with the boat ill-prepared and with insufficient provisions.
Harry also described the harbour master as being very strict as he did not allow anyone to leave the country if their shoes were inappropriate.
“A fellow yachtie was getting ready to leave on April 20, when he met with the harbour master to get leave. However, he was rejected because he was wearing Crocs (rubber shoes). That made him an illegal person the next day.
“I found out that they are checking the shoes you wear, and if toes can be seen, you are not allowed to check out,” she said.
A former Tourism Malaysia top officer told The Vibes that this misstep by the authorities will nullify efforts to attract this segment of the tourism industry that it has tried promoting since 2004.
“This is one difficult segment of the industry that is hard to attract,” the former officer said.
“It’s very lucrative to the marinas, beach hotels and other suppliers, especially of food and beverages. They are long-stay tourists and repeat customers.
“In this case, Singapore and Phuket stand to gain. The state and federal agencies on tourism should take up the matter as Malaysia is tourism-friendly,” he said.
Harry alleged that politics are in play, too, saying that those who have docked at one of the three marinas in Langkawi as of March 31 have been given 90 days to leave, while those at other marinas have not been given such a lengthy time period.
By : Rachel Yeoh – The Vibes