09 September 2011

Fences and barriers on our shores: do they work?

Do these barriers really deter illegal immigrants from landing? In media articles today, the Police Coast Guard say the recent "drop in coastal intrustion ... bear out the increased patrols around Singapore's coast and putting up of more land and sea barriers."
The northern shore of Pulau Ubin is ringed by a tall fence.
In the next three years, the coast guard will put up more land barriers for a total 68km of land and sea barriers.

When the fences were first put up on Pulau Ubin in 2003, concerns were raised such as Is Ubin fence really needed? by a kayaker. The police response then was that "the potential impact of the project on the marine environment has been taken into consideration. It commissioned a formal study - an environmental impact assessment - which showed 'no negative impact at the final sites chosen'."

Recently, we have also started seeing these floating barriers near our shores. According to the media, these are "intended to trip up small boats, favoured by human smuggling syndicates. Boats that crash into the barriers will have their motors ripped out."
Mystery floating drums at Pasir Ris beach.
These floating sea barriers were first erected at a small waterway next to Punggol Timor in 2009. Thereafter in more areas including Pasir Ris Beach, Jurong Island Causeway and Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. Plans are to deploy up to 22km of these barriers around Singapore, which "would reduce the porosity of Singapore's sea borders by 20%". More about these floating sea barriers.

Although barriers have been deployed since 2003, one operator only recently arrested had "smuggled so many illegal immigrants by boat from Malaysia into Singapore for nearly 10 years that he lost count of how many he had brought in."

Drop in coastal intrusions with more security
Dip in suspicious boats being chased away; fewer illegals arrested
Tham Yuen-C Straits Times 9 Sep 11;

THE number of suspicious boats chased away by the Police Coast Guard, and suspected illegal immigrants and criminals arrested along Singapore's coastline, has fallen.

In the first six months of this year, coast guard patrol vessels chased away 77 suspicious boats in Singapore waters. This is fewer than half of the 220 boats chased away in the whole of last year.

The number of arrests made by the coast guard has also dropped, with 35 people - suspected illegal immigrants as well as other criminals like cigarette smugglers - arrested from January to June this year compared to 105 in the whole of last year.

These statistics bear out the efforts of the coast guard, which has increased patrols around Singapore's coast and also put in more land and sea barriers.

Border security was identified as a top concern by the authorities especially after the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai, when terrorists reached the city by sea and stormed hotels killing 166 people, including a Singaporean.

The heightened security has also slowed down human smuggling syndicates, which have been less successful in getting people into Singapore.

Last year, out of the 105 arrests which the coast guard made, 72 were illegal immigrants. In 2009, out of 150 arrests, 85 were illegal immigrants.

The arrests of at least 15 syndicate leaders and members since 2008 have helped deter human smugglers.

Yesterday, Police Coast Guard commander Teo Kian Teck said more would be done to boost coastal security.

At a press conference to elaborate on the arrest of human smuggler Law Song, he said funds have been approved to increase the manpower in the coast guard's intelligence teams and Special Task Squadron.

While he did not provide exact numbers, Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) Teo said there are plans to double the number of officers in the Special Task Squadron, which performs sea interceptions.

In May, the coast guard intercepted four illegal immigrants who were trying to land at a sand aggregate terminal in Punggol Timor on Singapore's north- eastern shore. The four - three men and a woman from China - eventually provided important information that led to the arrest of Law, 63, a human smuggling syndicate leader in Malaysia.

Punggol Timor, where he had planned to drop off the illegal immigrants, is one of the hot spots for such landings.

In 2009, floating sea barriers were erected at the i-channel, a small waterway next to Punggol Timor, to deter such landings. The barriers have been deployed in more areas including Pasir Ris Beach, Jurong Island Causeway and Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.

Plans are afoot to deploy up to 22km of these barriers around Singapore. SAC Teo said it would reduce the porosity of Singapore's sea borders by 20 per cent.

The barriers can trip up small boats, which are favoured by human smuggling syndicates. Boats that crash into the barriers will have their motors ripped out, said Police Coast Guard deputy commander Sam Tee.

In the next three years, the coast guard will also put up more land barriers. When the project is done, there will be a total of 68km of land and sea barriers protecting Singapore's coastline.

But SAC Teo warned that the 'vacuum' created by these efforts would not last.

'These intrusions are persistent threats because of Singapore's close proximity to the hot spots in the region and the lucrative nature of the (human smuggling) business,' he said.

The syndicate bosses


Leader: Wu Feng Xia, also known as Ah Pang. Based in Putian, China, Wu is said to have been the 'wholesaler' who supplied a steady stream of illegal immigrants to the next layer in the network. He would get his clients to Macau.

From there, they would board budget airline flights to Malaysia and enter legally. He is said to have charged between 15,000 yuan (S$2,800) and 20,000 yuan for every Chinese who wanted to enter Singapore illegally. Wu was arrested in February and detained without trial under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.


Leader: Law Song, also known as Lao Liu. Law worked out of his base in Johor where he looked for boat owners to ferry the illegal immigrants to Singapore. He would arrange their passage from Kuala Lumpur to Johor, then get his men to drive them to designated spots where they would meet the boatmen. He charged $2,000 for each immigrant he hooked up with the boatmen. He was sentenced to seven years' jail on Wednesday.


Leaders: There are multiple leaders in this layer, including Mat Gajah, Maman and Khamis. They were the boatmen who ferried the illegal immigrants from Malaysia to Singapore and dropped them off at the coast.

These gangs are known to charge between RM1,500 (S$610) and RM2,200 for each immigrant successfully taken to Singapore.

Mat Gajah was sentenced to six years in prison in 2009, Maman was jailed for two years and six weeks in 2009 and given six strokes of the cane, and Khamis was jailed for two years and six months in 2009 and given 15 strokes of the cane.

He smuggled illegals for 10 years
In two years, syndicate member orchestrated the smuggling of 49 China nationals by speedboat from Malaysia into Singapore
by Shaffiq Alkhatib and Saifulbahri Ismail Today Online 9 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE - He smuggled so many illegal immigrants by boat from Malaysia into Singapore for nearly 10 years that he lost count of how many he had brought in, according to the prosecution.

Between mid-2007 and September 2009, Law Song, 63, a Malaysian odd-job labourer, smuggled 49 China nationals into Singapore.

On Wednesday, he was jailed seven years after pleading guilty to six charges.

He was part of a syndicate, holding a position near the top of the smuggling network. Law is also the second syndicate leader arrested within six months this year.

The 63-year-old received about S$2,000 for each illegal immigrant he handled before he sent them off in groups of three to four per trip using speedboats.

Police described Law as a very cautious person who was able to evade detection over the past three years because he did not trust the people around him.

In May this year, he landed four illegal immigrants along the northern coastline of Punggol Timor but the Police Coast Guard (PCG) arrested them and they were able to provide critical information about Law. One of the illegal immigrants said Law would not allow them to back off once a deal was struck between them.

The Malaysian authorities arrested him on July 18 and he was handed over to the Singapore police four days later.

On Wednesday, the court heard that he had hired three Malaysian boat operators between 2007 and 2009 to ferry the illegal immigrants from Johor to Singapore.

They were Muhd Shafiq William Abdullah, 38; Suimi Taruna, 44; and Salam Awang, 64. He paid each of them between S$600 and S$900 for every successfully smuggled illegal immigrant.

The trio have been dealt with in court and were sentenced to between four weeks and six years in jail.

Law, who was unrepresented on Wednesday, pleaded for leniency, saying he was merely acting as a middleman in the operations.

But Deputy Public Prosecutor Vanessa Yeo pressed for a deterrent sentence, arguing that Law had actively recruited his accomplices and even gave instructions at key stages of the smuggling process. Law "handled so many transactions that the exact numbers eluded him", said DPP Yeo.

To deter potential smugglers, police have deployed floating sea barriers along hotspots. These barriers have helped reduce smuggling activities by about 20 per cent.

Over the next three years, the PCG will deploy an additional 28km of land and sea barriers to further deter smuggling of illegal immigrants into Singapore.


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