Bridge over straits NOT VIABLE

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LETTERS: Many might have forgotten the proposed bridge project across the Straits of Malacca connecting Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra.

This project underwent an initial feasibility study more than a decade ago. It may reach the length of 127.92km and was estimated to cost more than RM52 billion to build that time.

Teluk Gong in Melaka has been identified as the Malaysian terminus for the bridge and the other end is in the port city of Dumai, Riau province.

Such a huge project would not only adversely affect the coastal ecosystem on both shores of the bridge, but also the straits in terms of hydrological, environmental and economic perspectives.

The movement and speed of currents would change with the construction of bridge pillars, and this may alter the nature of the straits.

The project will encroach on the nesting grounds of hawksbill turtles which, on the Malaysian side, would be around Padang Kemunting, Melaka.

Construction on the seabed itself could impact fishing activities, which may affect the livelihood of fishermen along the straits.

A large portion of the traffic separation scheme (TSS) areas may also have to be closed off, which will result in potential navigational hazards for ships.

Ships will be forced to reduce speed while sailing past the construction area, and this causes navigational difficulty for large container vessels and oil tankers.

As a result, many nations may raise a diplomatic protest against both countries under Article 44 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, which requires nations adjacent the straits to not hamper shipping traffic.

Slower shipping traffic will cause congestion and eventually result in maritime accidents. Oil, chemical and noxious substances from such accidents may jeopardise the sensitive marine environment along the straits and waters off Singapore.

It will also mean that shipping transit will take a longer time, increasing the cost and prices of products sold in markets worldwide.

Another issue is whether the cost involved in constructing the bridge is justified by subsequent usage.

The cost of construction will incur high debt liabilities, which will be passed on to bridge users.

In tropical thunderstorms and monsoons, driving on a bridge across the sea will be a dangerous journey. The bridge will be difficult to maintain for the safety and security of drivers because of its length.

In Peninsular Malaysia, Melaka is a strategic hub for the bridge to connect cities like Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Johor Baru and neighbouring Singapore.

However, the same cannot be said of Dumai, which had a population of 302,623 only in 2019. Dumai is also very far from major cities like Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Medan, Palembang and Padang.

Even today, Indonesia is still constructing highways in Sumatra to improve connectivity between its major cities.

So, a bridge between Melaka and Dumai is not likely to boost economic growth in the region.

Furthermore, considering the cancellation of the Sunda Strait Bridge between Sumatra and Jawa, Indonesia is also not supporting the construction of this proposed bridge as it may not be in line with the country’s maritime-based development vision.

Therefore, for now, it is not entirely viable to have the bridge.

Dr Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli

Faculty of Syariah and Law,Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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