Text by Eugene Tan
Coming into question for existing outside of the law, the resolution to the saga surrounding some of these jetties could be viewed as government agencies and operators meeting in the middle.
At about 7pm daily, fishermen set sail from the Seletar Jetties and head for the waters around Pulau Ubin where they fish mainly for pomfret. They return by midnight, and transfer their catch to Senoko where it is sold.
For several groups of these fishermen, this humble way of life came under threat in early 2012 when the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and Singapore Land Authority (SLA) found at least three jetties to be illegally built. Both agencies issued a joint statement several weeks later, explaining what had occurred. They noted that since Seletar coastal area was approved as mooring bases for sea craft in 1993, SLA had originally issued three temporary occupation licences (TOL) to the representatives of the craft owners for the use of state land, including fishing equipment within the TOL boundary. However, approval was not given for the makeshift jetties and structures outside the TOL boundary which “lack professional certification and pose safety hazards”.
While the owners were first told to remove these illegal structures, they were informed at the end of March that the jetties could remain as long as they were certified safe by professional engineers. By May, it was placeed that the Jetties were being made safe and legal, with only one actually dismantled. Some of the items removed included floating storage containers further out at sea which the fishermen used to store equipment, in return for which SLA granted two operators additional storage space on the shore.
Speaking to some of these fishermen a year later, the events of 2012 still seem to weigh heavily. There is a sense of resentment over the costs put into the professional certifications and imposed renovations which included on-site toilets. Still detecting an air of uncertainty surrounding their long-term futures, they go about their business cautiously and furtively, doing their best to tow the line that they seem to have.