Did land reclamation affect currents?


Now here’s a piece by Himanshu Bhatt in theSun that is worth pondering over. Goes to show why we can’t take anything for granted if we mess with Nature.

GEORGE TOWN (Jan 19, 2010) : Inshore fishermen who ply the waters of the Penang Channel where the dragon boat capsize incident occurred on Sunday want the authorities to look into the impact of reclamation on the currents in the channel.

Traditional inshore fisherman Khoo Kay Keat points to this new shallow
shoreline along the reclaimed land in Jelutong where the Bandar Sri Penang
fishermen’s jetty is built. Penang held its Pesta dragon boat race here last year.
The accident that took the lives of six people during a dragon-boat training
session on Sunday occurred about a km away from this reclaimed area.

Khoo Kay Keat, 55, a former Penang Inshore Fishermen’s Welfare Association committee member, who now operates in the area, said they had observed currents changing over last 10 years or so.

He said the inshore fishermen had seen certain stretches along the coastline becoming shallower about the same time that reclamation work had taken place, while the middle portions of the channel had remained deep.

Full article in theSun here.

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Anil, Sorry to hijack this thread. It’s about the dragon boat accident. You see, Singapore’s dragon boat team also had one accident, not that long ago. In 2008. 5 of their members died, drowning. In Cambodia. It is totally unfortunate for what happening in Penang — for OUR FAILURE OF LEARNING FROM OTHERS has resulted in the death of the six young men. There is a very good report on what happened and subsequent follow-up on the Singaporean incident. The report is available at http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/350946/1/.html Hope you can do a piece on this, Anil, so that Penang will NOT be… Read more »


Looks like the deaths of 6 young people has become a Golden Opportunity for Lim Guan Eng to play politics:



Such politicking can be good for Penang people. LGE’s statement in that news is fair. While elsewhere I have doubts about LGE (for example, his non-transparent expansion of developer rights), in this matter he can create value simply because he stimulates political competition. As a non-local boy, with possibly a “subconscious” grudge against the Gerakan-leaning CLHS BOD, LGE may just help uproot or at least shake lose the deadwoods. Isn’t that what you want, Iron? However, I would hope DAP’s sometimes vengeful style does not get a free run here, ending up permanently damaging CLHS. Overall, DAP has a selfish… Read more »


Dear Kah Seng, Thank you very much for your very early morning reply. There have been couple of assumptions on your part. 1. That politicians will play fair and non-abusively. 2. Political competition (no matter which side) within the CLHS might stimulate something good. As far as I know — and I am yet not old enough to know everything — no politician will play fair, and once they attain the position of power, that they won’t become abusive. Oh, there may be a few, like Gandhi, but that guy has no intention of ruling (lording) over his people in… Read more »


I harbor no dream that our politicians can be trusted.

What I trust is competition — even political competition.


three separate things i would like to share… 1st – regarding the wave thingy, i think it could be supported by this scientific statement of bernoulli principle… simply said, if a normal moving speed has been established on the channel, it will remain that unless there is a change to its width, it will definitely, somehow altered the flow or it could just speed up to compensate for the volume it loss… so i can see there is a scientific explanation to the event… and i totally agree when one mess around with mother nature, you’ll get it back from… Read more »

Loh Yeow Boo - Penang

I am active in Penang Swimming Club. Look at the life jackets that are allowed in the country, they are all substandard….

The Headmaster, as “head” of the school must stand up and take responsibility. He should resign graciously. If somebody wants to hold a high position and enjoy the salary, it MUST come with responsibility, otherwise he might as welll be the school gardener!


The headmaster isn’t going to step down or taking any responsibility.

He is currently busy with back-tracking everything that he said.

He told the hall filled with students that he would take responsibility and now, he says he would stay.

Such a fine example of “responsible adult”, indeed !


Wasn’t this a case of natural disaster and negligence? Why out of a sudden, it became so political? Are there no other places to point a finger?

Condolences to the family of the victim.

While it is good if we could find the cause so rectification/prevention can be done… In times of adversity, diagnostic doesn’t offer comfort but instead, concern and support.


It is a case of man-made disaster, not natural disaster. A lot of things have gone wrong. Students who don’t know how to swim are permitted to row the boat. Out of 18 people on board, only 2 wore safety jackets. The safety jackets are not of good quality. The location where disaster happened has a lot of commercial sea traffic, which means a lot of propellers spinning under the water, which means a lot of under currents, which means, it is NOT a place for a boat full of non-swimmers to row boat. And last, but not least, there… Read more »


Iron, my point is, this should not be made into a political issues or land reclamation. But I do agree with most part of your replies. Cheers


Everything is politics. Politics allocates power so that reasonable rules are set/reset and followed, and lives and properties are protected in the future.

If we don’t discuss the political power that can restructure the rules, then the same tragedies WILL happen again.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of those trying to protect the power-that-be, who says “don’t politicize this, don’t politicize that” when it does not suit them.

The key difference should be whether political talk is reasoned and clear, or whether it is vengeful and irresponsible.


School management, principle and teachers incharge for this activities to be PUNISHED FIRST. They should take responsibilities no matter what. Do they really take care all the precautions before executing such boating training? Is there any written approval from Marine Department or related authorities acknowledging area safe for training?SOLAS (Safety of life at sea) as per IMO ruling clearly define life jacket should subject to certain hours of floating capacity, emergency light&battery and expiry date too. So, if the management& co. really consider all these factors than great chances salvaging those poor life are there.


This goes beyond punishment, since punishments mean people have to DIE before things are done properly. It’s a systematic flaw. And in the context of the Chinese schools, I believe maybe KahSeng should pick up the torch looking for a definite answer. The present system that manages the Directorship of the Chinese school system is a remnant that can be traced back to the 1950’s. Something that worked in the much simplified society in the 1950’s ain’t working no more in the present society which is much much more complicated. Look at who is on the Board of the Director… Read more »


School BODs tend to be so mired with unfair politics that idea-oriented people like me can’t do much. I have bigger fish to catch. The bigger fish I am referring to is the battle of ideas. Our developing-world intellectuals, academicians, and journalists (some times I think including Anil) are such well-meaning suckers for socialist, government-interventionist, anti-globalization ideas, that we are all in danger of being led lemming-like over an authoritarian precipice. The honest path lies in libertarianism, yet most fear it. That’s where I should work. While I’m at it, why don’t you guys look up some good, free, independent,… Read more »

Loh Yeow Boo - Penang

Corruption affects all of us…. 1. Headmaster is too busy focusing on asking students to buy insurance plans, building renovation, food promotion and forcing students to buy…..rather than on student safety, activities planning because this brings no money 2. Board of Directors interested in donation (no report or audit done), building renovation, building new buildings, canteen contracts, obtaining Datukship….rather than students welfare. 3. No proper safety procedures or enforcement. Even if there is and anybody caught breaking it can selesai…. 4. No proper planning or study of reclamation…tide study, undercurrents, water flow, etc…it is just a short cut to get… Read more »


I agree with points #1, 3, 4 strongly. On point 2, the board of directors have my sympathy. While more audit will be good, remember it has been the federal government who makes life difficult for these SJKC and SMJK (chinese vernacular primary schools and chinese-leaning, national type high school). The federal government and ministry of education underfund them, such that the boards of directors have to go out of their way to raise money. In general, I tend to believe that the directors pay out more than they get in in terms of money. What they get in return… Read more »


Dear Kah Seng,

The Board of Director of that school has none of my sympathy.

They are on the board for their own selfish interests, never for the betterment of the school.

You ought to know that, Kah Seng.


I’m more sympathetic of selfishness. Selfishness is good and, in fact necessary because it is honest, provided we do not go out of our way to harm other people.

Asking for sacrifice can be even more dangerous. Look at NEP, military regimes, national service, poor EPF holders, etc. Only parents can justifiably sacrifice for their children, because children are part of themselves. All other sacrifices are dubious, because who call for sacrifice but those unconscientious ones who benefit from their sacrificial victims?

I’m not defending the BODs. Only that selfishness in itself cannot be a criteria of blame.

Andrew I

It had to come sooner or later. Now it seems our new state opposition is questioning why the race venue was changed from the Penang Dam. When it was changed, why didn’t they raise this pertinent question and state their objections in the strongest possible terms to it, if safety was of paramount importance to them? If one is guilty, so is the other. I remember when the dragon boat races were held at Gurney Drive. Why was it necessary to change it to Penang Dam? Frankly, I find it disgustingly appalling for anyone to even try, or be seen… Read more »


Could not agree more. Everyone is an expert in hindsight.

Loh Yeow Boo - Penang

Remember Raja Petra’s Malaysia Today’s article…HOW CORRUPTION AFFECTS US ALL…..Here is a very good example. Corruption affects us one way or another.


Who’s talking about big flow, Iron? Dragon boats and fishing boats are small compared to swirls. I’m not blaming any individuals, but local government should be elected to be even more accountable, organized, proactive, and transparent with such potential local hazards to avoid such tragedies to students and fishermen. Redirected currents can also build up mudflat and sand banks, which further changes currents in bigger ways over time. Another example is Gurney Drive. After Tanjung Tokong was reclaimed, Gurney Drive has become a bed of silt, displaying a mudflat perhaps 2/3 of the months, rather than just at low tide.… Read more »


Any land reclamation is under UMNO/Gerakan Federal JPS or DID coastal hands. As mentioned – not even our Engr Ong Su Eng can claim his expertise here as modelling and verification of data is required. If the plans are submitted to State DID, they have to refer to Federal DID.

This reclamation has been carried out under Gerakan/UMNO reign and who has the say?


Dear Kah Seng, To understand the Gurney Drive phenomena, you must go to Pantai Bersih on the other side, yes, Butterworth. Over there beaches are being eaten up by the sea. While at the same time, the soil that the sea has swallowed, they pile up on the Island side. That phenomena started way back, and I mean, WAY BACK, in the 1970’s. Trust me. Almost every morning in the 60’s and 70’s (oh no, I have disclosed how old I am 🙂 ) I jog on the Gurney Drive. Even at that time, mud flat already started forming. The… Read more »


Yeah i think it’s reasonable to assume that land reclamation affects currents. To confirm that, I think we can ask Singapore. They reclaim more land than most other countries. The entire runway in Changi Airport sits on reclaimed land. Maybe they have done some impact studies. However the drowning episode itself prompts me to ask : 1. surely the minimum criteria for engaging in dragonboat race is the ability to swim ? how come the school select people who can’t swim ?? isn’t this irresponsible ? shouldn’t they be trained to swim ? 2. how come there are not enough… Read more »


If the current erode the shoreline like in Kelantan and Trengganu, then the Gerakan/UMNO government must go all the way to defend the shorelines by building and building again?

Malaysian Observer

> Take a boat/ferry ride along HK habour. The locals will tell you its not as smooth a ride as it was 20 yrs ago due to the land reclamation.

Hai, not exactly the most scientific means of evaluation. We can’t go touchy-feely if we want people to respect our claims.

Back it up with some real concrete scientific measurements.


Yes, of course.

When you mess with mother nature, there will be repercussions.

Energy cannot be stop nor destroyed. It is diverted or converted. Apply this to movement of water.

Take a boat/ferry ride along HK habour. The locals will tell you its not as smooth a ride as it was 20 yrs ago due to the land reclamation.


I recommend all Malaysians to learn swimming. If you fall into deep water, you’ll definitely have a better chance of surviving.


The Law of Nature should not be tampered with as far as possible…”For every action there is a reaction”
Are’nt we familiar with this simple law of physics?


“For every action there is a reaction” is newtonian and is now not accurate. A more accurate understanding of nature is that for every action there is a multitude of indeterministic results. Actually very similar to what Buddha taught in the law of karma.


The current flows is from the bay of Bengal, down the Straits of Malacca, and exits into South China Sea near Singapore.

It always has been that way.

Land reclamation can not change that big flow, unless one successfully block the straits, like what Moses did very long time ago, at Red Sea.

The most land reclamation can do is to create some mini swirling effects.

That’s all.

Learn your geography, Anil.

wood and wind

I take issue with iron’s attempt to look clever.
Common sense tells us that movement of water down a channel is a function of its containment.

If you reshape or restrict the channel, water flow patterns will change in response to the retardation. Same energy being forced into a constricted channel, certain areas flow faster than before, and then eddy behind the “shadow” of the retarding mass. No rocket science.

Iron concedes “mini swirling effects”. Well, if you are in a small boat, “mini” can be big enough.


Your common sense is true. I can’t deny that common sense of yours. But you forgot three things — that is, * The volume of the water flow, * The speed of the flow, and * The angle ( from high ground to low ground ) of the water flow. Angle wise, the depth of the South China Sea is actually shallower than that of the Indian Ocean. But water is still flowing from the Indian Ocean to South China Sea due to the rotation of the Earth. Which means, the water pressure in the Indian Ocean is higher than… Read more »


Way to go man, Iron. You know what in Singapore the Malaysian government also argue on that basis. The land reclamation on Tuas. Only to be rebutted by fellow Malaysians across the causeway (Singapore). Or former Malaysians


Err… Iron, you forgot one possibility. I am not saying you must be wrong, but consider these points. 1. The Penang harbor is a harbor because it has reasonably deep waters, 2. The McCallum area is shallow with mud, perhaps more so after the reclamation block off regular currents, 3. Tide water changes behavior when flowing from deep water to shallow water, they “crumple up”, and form crests of waves. That’s how tsunamis are almost undetectable by human in deep sea, but roll up to many meters near the shore. 4. The day and time of the tragedy was the… Read more »


I’m not saying the waves at McCallum is an exact duplicate of other tidal bores. Afterall, this is sea, with waves bouncing from both shores too.

But the tragedy occurred near the narrowest point of the strait, where two funnel-shapes meet. Related theories should be considered for future safety.

See map http://wikimapia.org/#lat=5.4041841&lon=100.3373837&z=11&l=0&m=b
See article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tidal_bore


Thank you, Kah Seng, for bringing up the fact of 3rd day of the moon, where the tide ebbs and then rises. 1. Penang’s harbor has been dredged many time over the years. Which means, it’s not “deep water” as many have thoughts. Of course, Port Swettenham of Penang is located near the Esplanade, and if we look at the map of Penang Island, on the north east corner, there’s an “arm” stretching out. That “arm” is the thing that blocks the most of the mud flowing form Butterworth / Kedah to accumulate in the Port Swettenham. Because of that… Read more »


I forgot to add this — If we take a look at the map of the upper part of the Straits of Malacca, from the Bay of Bengal, down to Penang, on the east side of the Straits, we will notice that the LAND slanting, from North West to South East. Which means, on the east side of the Straits, water flows from Bay of Bengal, coasting along the shoreline of Thailand to Perlis and Kedah, and then when it reaches somewhere near Penang, the “NW to SE” slant of the land mass suddenly disappear. What would this do to… Read more »

Andrew Yong

Iron – You say that you are an environmentalist. What are your qualifications in oceanography? I don’t know about the local currents in Penang, but according to all the information on the internet, the prevailing current in the Straits of Malacca is from southeast to northwest all year round. This is due to salinity differences exacerbated in the winter by the Indian monsoon, not to any slope in the land or the seabed.