Malaysia maritime agency aims to double helicopter fleet

Singapore
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The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) has put in a formal request to double its air fleet, a move that comes as the country prepares for a major clamp down on human trafficking.

Malaysia is a major transit point for Afghans and Sri Lankans seeking to smuggle their way into Australia but, following pressure from Australia's prime minister Kevin Rudd, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak agreed late last year to criminalise people smuggling.

The MMEA is one of the key organisations helping with the crackdown and it is responsible for clamping down on piracy at sea and putting a stop to drug and weapons smuggling.

To boost its capability, the MMEA has put in a formal request to the government for six helicopters to be purchased under the nation's 2011-2015 national plan, says MMEA director general Amdan bin Kurish.

This would double its fleet. Currently the MMEA has three Eurocopter AS365 N3 Dauphins as well as three AgustaWestland AW139s on order. Amdan says one AW139 is due for delivery in July and the other two in September.

In a separate development, the MMEA is negotiating with the government in Kota Kinabalu for land so it can establish a base at that city's airport, says Amdan. Kota Kinabalu is the capital of east Malaysia's Sabah province.

It is also in the process of establishing a base at Kuala Lumpur's Subang airport that it aims to have completed by the middle of this year, he says.

Once the bases are completed, MMEA plans to have one of its Bombardier 415 amphibious aircraft and some helicopters stationed in Subang and its other 415 and rotorcraft based in Kota Kinabalu, he adds.

MMEA plans to buy a third and fourth fixed-wing aircraft in 2016-20, says Amdan, adding that by this time the MMEA's first two 415s will be 10 years old.

"The 415 has exceeded our expectations," he says, adding that there have been two occasions when the MMEA has had to use the aircraft's aerial firefighting capability.

In August 2009 two tankers collided in the Malacca Straits and one of the tankers, carrying naphtha, caught fire. But the MMEA was able to help put the fire out on the ship's desk thanks to its 415, adds Amdan.