Bandar Seri Begawan - Although 'stormy seas' and 'dark clouds' have marred the Brunei-Labuan ferry service in part for the time being now, ensuing in a battle of words across the bay, there is no way that the Sultanate is going to give any leeway on the safety issue in solving the current standoff.
The three Malaysian ferries will therefore remain banned from operating out of Brunei unless their safety standards have been rectified, Marine Department sources in the Sultanate have indicated.
There have also been suggestions here that the Malaysian operators of the debarred ferries Duta Muhibbah 2, Duta Muhibbah 3 and Rajawali owned by ISIW Shipping Company out of Labuan were trying to divert a safety issue to a political one.
There is no problem for two other Malaysian registered ferries, Ming Hai and Seri Labuan Tiga, to ply to and fro Labuan and Brunei.
They have passed the required safety standards of the International Association of Classification Societies, officials in Brunei said.
But despite warnings, the operators of the three banned Malaysian ferries have allegedly ignored Brunei's suggestions on safety, apparently reluctant to spend the money on the upgrade, sources here said.
And consequently Brunei banned them, resulting in a hue and cry from their agents in Brunei and their operators in Labuan.
But Brunei's Director of Marine Department is very much concerned on the safety of life, property and environment and wants higher standards, it is learnt.
"If anything happens, his department will be answerable," a source close to the Brunei Marine Department head said.
The two Malaysian ferries now allowed operating complied with the international regulations similar to that of Brunei ferries, sources here said.
"Why then the other three Malaysian ferries could not comply as their construction and equipment have been found not up to standard and class and refused to comply when asked to do certain modifications?" the Brunei officials questioned.
To drive home their points, the local officials quoted a list of shocking ferry tragedies that happened in the region.
In the Philippines, for example, more than 200 mishaps occur annually.
From 1988 to 2009 alone, 13 major sea accidents were recorded, leaving at least 6,100 people dead.
The 1987 MV Dona Paz sinking that killed 4,341 people is considered the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.
Last year, the holiday season was marred by two sea mishaps that occurred just two days apart.
On December 24, Lubang-bound MV Catalyn Bs sank after it rammed into steel-hulled fishing vessel FV Anatalia.
Twenty-seven passengers perished in the collision.
Two days later, MV Baleno 9 went down in fair weather while sailing from Calapan City to Batangas.
Six bodies were found the following day while the fate of 44 others has remained unknown.
The twin sea tragedies highlighted anew the sorry state of the Philippine shipping industry and triggered a review of government regulatory agencies and maritime safety rules.
A ferry disaster in Bangladesh claimed hundreds of lives as more than 30 died in another disaster recently.
A news report said that at least 37 people - all women and children - were drowned after a ferry collided with a sand-laden cargo vessel and sank in north-eastern Bangladesh on December 19.
The country's latest fen, disaster occurred on the Surma River in the Sunamganj district, about 175 kilometres from the capital, Dhaka.
Recently, seven people died after an Indonesian ferry sank.
Last month people three died in Malaysia while two were missing when a ferry carrying 29 passengers capsized off Mersing in Malaysia's southern state of Johor.
And recently, at least 100 people were aboard the "Seagull Express", an old and rickety ship that was battling engine problems as it headed for the popular Malaysian, resort island of Tioman from Mersing in southern Johor.
One issue the Malaysian ferry operator has raised in the current Labuan-Muara ferry dispute is that certain safety regulations applies only on ships which are more than 500 gros tonnages.
But Brunei officials have pointed out that it is for the cargo ships.
For passenger ships, big or small, with the capacity of more than 12 paying passengers on international voyage, all rules would apply for safety of passengers, property and environment.
If the ship sails within the country, then it is up to that country to determine the regulations.
In Brunei all ferries and offshore vessels used for offshore workers' transportation comply with both the international and Brunei regulations.
All come under Classification Societies with are members of IACS (International Association of Classification Societies).
There are other classes which are not members of IACS but those are used for domestic transportation.
Classification Societies make the rules and regulations under International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
They observe the regulations when a ship is under construction and then throughout its life.
Marine Administrations (Marine Department and Authorities) delegate the class to survey and issue the statutory certificates to ships.
In the shipping industry, classification societies are nongovernmental organisations or groups of professionals, ship surveyors and representatives of offices that promote -the safety and protection of the environment of ships and offshore structures. -- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin