IBB Article

IT BYTES BACK: Cabotage, Sphabotage

There is something about the word “cabotage” and “cables” that just rolls off the tongue.

Right now, almost the whole local tech scene  is gripped by the dramatic unravelling of our nation’s story, our fate if you will, if foreign ships cannot repair cut submarine cables in our waters.

When I first heard of this issue few months back, I thought that the main bottleneck is the Malaysian Shipowners’ Association (Masa). It seemed that they needed to be brought to task for jamming applications by foreign ships to come (to our sovereign waters?) and repair cut sub cables. This is favourable for the lone Masa member that owns a ship, because they will do the repairs instead.

With the cabotage exemption revoked, foreign ships were subject once again to having to apply to repair cables. According to news reports, history shows it can take up to 100 days for applications to  go through.

This does not bode well at all for Internet connectivity in the country, as submarine cables are to Internet traffic, what highway roads are to vehicles traffic.

Our sovereign waters

Fast forward to today, and many have come forward to voice their opinions about the issue, for example the Minister of Transport, Wee Ka Siong who removed the cabotage exemption that his predecessor put in place, etc etc etc.

The submarine cable players who predominantly are also the big webscalers and part of the Big Tech cabal, Facebook, Google, Amazon to name a few, have now also come into the picture.

More specifically, potential investments by these companies have been added to the case for cabotage to be exempted for foreign vessels to repair submarine cables.

The first rationale: with cable cuts taking so long to be repaired (100 days or more), why would these sub cable owners want to land their cables here?

The second rationale came in the form of sub cable owners requiring specially equipped ships to do repairs. Don’t cable owners have the right to decide who repairs their assets?

Both camps have put forward their reasons and argued their case. In my mind, one side sounds vindicated whilst the other side sounds chastened, sheepish, almost The chastened side may even want to make amends.


I agree that cable owners should decide who repairs their cables. In the same vein, doesn’t a nation have right to decide who comes into their territory?

We bemoan the loss of potential submarine cable landing and investment but is cabotage the only culprit? What about the other factors?  And might these factors have to do with why no webscaler advertises that they  have (or not) data centres in the country?

Digital Realty launched data centres in Singapore, Rackspace launched in Hong Kong, and Google in Indonesia… we hear about these and more data centre investments in the news, and via press releases.

I know we even have at least 2 Chinese data centres in Malaysia.

Where are the webscalers’ data centres  in Malaysia?

Significantly, with rising geopolitical tensions nearby in the Straits of Taiwan, is it in owners’ interest to build their underwater cables through our region in the next 5 years? Read more about the Bay to Bay cable system here.

I think we have bigger things to worry about right now.

My esteemed colleague Charles Moreira, who is an experienced veteran of the ICT industry also weighs in as below:

IT BYTES BACK! says: “On the one hand I do not want to let the big international boys push Malaysia around but when Malaysian big boys and GLCs want it as well and Malaysia’s economy needs it, then it is a different matter and the government should take the Malaysian boys seriously and not let an industry association dictate government policy and the overall interests of Malaysia.”