Sia Kiok Hua is worried. He fishes alongside a small fleet of boats out of Miri, Sarawak, East Malaysia. Like many small owner-operators in the world's fishing fleets he has been making a decent, although not extravagant, living. When the price of fuel oil spiked, the Malaysian government stepped in with a subsidy. This has so far kept the price of fuel to fishermen at one Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) per liter while the non-subsidized price has gone to 1.7 MYR. (1MYR=$.27US)
In a typical one-week trip he burns about 8,000 liters of fuel. After paying his fuel bill and the wages to the two locals and three Indonesians in his crew he is left with about 5,000 MYR per trip to pay for gear and boat maintenance and family expenses. The increase of fuel prices to market levels would add 5600 MYR to his fuel bill and make it impossible for him to go fishing.
On each 7-day trip on the 80x22-foot boat he averages about 20 tons of fish from the trawl that has a 150-foot footrope and is typically towed over sand bottom in 40-meter depths. The mixed species catch is brought ashore in barrels in the refrigerated hold and goes into the local fresh fish market.
The wooden boat was built on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia 19 years ago from selang au batu hard wood. Four years ago Mr. Sia replaced the original 500 hp engine with a reconditioned 620 hp Cummins VTA1710 M2 diesel. The additional power from the 28-liter 12-cylinder engine allowed him to increase his towing speed from four to five knots with a resulting increase in catches. Running the engine 12 hours per day for about 20 days per month it has served him well. Recently he gave it a major overhaul and is looking forward to more years of good service, if the subsidies do not stay in place he doubts that the local fish market can absorb the additional cost that would come from changes in the fuel price.
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