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Navy ships in development

June 5, 2011
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Navy ships in development
LUMUT: Before 1979, Lumut was just a quiet coastal town 84km from Ipoh. Sloping beaches and mangrove swamps provided the idyllic setting for leisure anglers.
“People used to walk around with a torchlight looking for crabs on the sandy beaches. The natural setting was perfect for spotting interesting sea creatures including hermit crabs and sea cucumbers in the shallow pools between rocks,” said Peter Nunis, who fell in love with the quiet charm of the town when he moved here in 1969.

Today, after more than three decades of hosting the country’s largest naval base, Lumut is more synonymous with the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) than its landscape or marine life.

In recognition of RMN’s contribution to the progress and modernisation of the town, Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak officially declared Lumut a Navy Town during RMN’s Diamond Jubilee, which coincided with the 25th anniversary of the ruler’s reign in April 2009.

With the royal declaration, Lumut joins the prestigious list of navy towns around the world, similar to Sweden’s Karlskrona, South Africa’s Simon’s Town, the United Kingdom’s Portsmouth, Australia’s Sydney, Germany’s Kiel and the United States’ Norfolk and New Port.

An iron anchor from the decommissioned frigate, KD Rahmat sits in the middle of the town, signifying RMN’s role in catalysing development in the previously laidback fishing enclave.

Chats with the townsfolk reveal links with the navy base in one way or another.

Taxi driver K. Sanjeevi, 49, of Manjung, served 23 years in the communications department of the RMN before retiring as a Warrant Officer (I). He recalls fondly his service years and counts many of his closest friends among RMN colleagues.

“Many of us still keep in close contact and make a point to gather at least once every two years. The next get-together will be this December, and I’m looking forward to meeting up with my old navy mates.”

Lumut’s naval affiliation helped elevate its tourism potential.

Many locals saw commercial potential in setting up gift shops and seafood stalls near the public jetty, which doubles as the main gateway to another popular tourist spot in Perak, Pulau Pangkor.

Sales executive Norlila Osman, 43, has been doing business at Lumut jetty for more than 30 years now.

“I moved here with my family when I was 15. Since then, I’ve worked as a ticketer at the ferry stand, waitress at the shops nearby and now I promote chalets to tourists who want to visit Pangkor.”

Norlila pointed out that many tourists, foreign and local alike, arrived at Lumut to get to Pangkor.

“It takes only 10 minutes to drive around the entire Lumut town. Most people stop here to get a few souvenirs and then head off to Pangkor,” she said.

Although Norlila’s business has little connection with the naval base, she credited RMN for helping to promote development in the town.

She revealed that her husband, a business supplier, had benefited from several RMN contracts for grass cutting and providing shipping material.

Shopowner Foo Fok Soon, 70, once operated the town’s sole Chinese coffee shop, which has been in business since pre-independence days.

Since 2003, he has converted the premises into a grocery business, which he felt was less taxing than running an eatery.

“In the early days, there never used to be much of a crowd in the streets but over the years, more people from nearby towns come here to find work.

“During school holidays, you can throw a stone in any direction and it is bound to hit a tourist and the roads are also filled with cars nowadays.”

For 18-year-old Mohamed Qusairy Mohamed Kamarudin studying at SMK Pangkalan TLDM in the RMN base helped him in forming his career goals.

The student of Taiping’s Noble School of Engineering is awaiting his industrial placement after studying ship welding.

“When I was in school I had the opportunity to hear a few talks on ship building.

“It piqued my interest, and by the time I was 16, I managed to enrol myself in the college programme,” said Qusairy.

He added that he hoped to get a job close to home, at the Lumut Port Industrial Park, which houses the branch offices and subsidiaries of engineering firm Kencana Petroleum.

Future plans for the naval town include building a 20-storey complex with 300 service apartments, a 146-room four-storey hotel, a four-storey community college, three-storey shop-offices, office lots, a public hall, recreation centre, supermarket, cafeteria, swimming pool, maintenance office, surau and a car park at a two hectare-site near where the town hospital used to be.

The project, which is to be carried out in phases, was sanctioned by Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir as well as the RMN last month during a ground-breaking ceremony.

The project is to be undertaken by developer Suria Rahmat Sdn Bhd at an estimated cost of RM100 million.

RMN chief Admiral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafar rightly stated in his speech during the royal declaration of Lumut as a Navy Town, that naval and maritime activities had contributed immensely to the town’s development and increased the socio-economic status of the locals.

Statistics showed that of 55,800 people living in Lumut, at least 43 per cent are RMN personnel, not including navy retirees.

Undoubtedly, RMN will continue to contribute to the development of Lumut as well as the neighbouring towns of Manjung and Sitiawan.

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