Visionary puts Johor on world map

SUCCESS stories are few and far between in Johor. But one that is truly awe inspiring is in far flung Pengerang, on the south-eastern tip of Johor.

Here, two hitherto unknown coastal villages – Tanjung Ayam and Tanjung Kapal – have now taken on an international profile with the completion of the independent integrated deep water petroleum terminal and storage complex.

This is a remarkable feat by any measure.

Some 500-acres of coastland have now been transformed into one of the world's most sophisticated international oil depots, complete with a jetty to handle even very large crude carriers.

It is an extraordinary engineering marvel because the entire world-class facility was built on land reclaimed from the sea.

The site had virtually no economic value previously, except for some fishermen families making subsistence living from their daily but dwindling catch from the sea.

These families, who had to make way for the development, were adequately compensated by the project proponents.

Work then started in earnest in late 2010 with the award of the engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning contract for the RM1.9 billion project.

It was a massive undertaking, involving the shipment of millions of cubic meters of sand on board a specially-built "dredger", which then discharged the sand on the shallow shoreline via a sophisticated network of huge iron ducts.

The entire process was so well coordinated and managed, notwithstanding the enormous challenges, that the entire land reclamation works were completed within a year, with minimal impact on the marine eco-system and local ecology.

Fishermen who had to give up their trade with the onset of the project were not only compensated but also found alternative jobs on site, while the more enterprising ones started life anew as food peddlers, traders and suppliers.

This was social engineering par excellence. There was no disconnect between the stakeholders and the project owners.

Open channels of communication were created so that the local community would understand that this project had what it took to change their lives for the better, forever.

If only Petronas, which is spearheading the Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID) in Pengerang, had taken this approach, it would not be shell struck with massive opposition to the project now. Petronas could have adopted a more humane and people friendly approach to launch RAPID.

Despite all its manifold economic benefits, RAPID today is still a "no go" as far as the Pengerang folks are concerned, which is a shame indeed.

Perhaps they need to take a leaf out of the book of Dr Ngau Boon Keat – the brainchild behind the Tanjung Ayam and Tanjung Kapal independent deep water petroleum terminal and storage complex.

This unassuming businessman is the vision and driver behind this spectacular project. He was undaunted in his mission to make it happen.

He went around the country scouting for a suitable site and eventually discovered Pengerang in Johor, describing it as "God's best gift to Johor".

Hence, started the rise of our very own mega O&G hub in Johor. Excavators and cranes soon started rolling into place and today this spot has been transformed into one of the world's newest oil trading depots.

The vision now is to remake and reposition this place overlooking the Straits of Singapore and South China Sea into one of Asia's top oil and gas hubs.

Fuelling Pengerang's enormous potential are several plus points. It has a natural harbour sheltered from the monsoons with deep draught (24-metres) to accommodate very large crude carriers and even ultra large crude carriers.

Pengerang also has abundant land – a perpetual constraint and major handicap for neighbouring Singapore. Indeed, more than 20,000 acres of land have been set aside for various oil and gas projects and small and medium sized industries in Pengerang.

The economic potential and spin-off of such a project is enormous, given our proximity to Singapore which is one of the three leading O&G hubs in the world.

In addition to that, we are an oil-producing nation and Pengerang is located right smack in the middle of a major shipping trading lane between China and India.

It took Singapore over 20 years to stamp its mark as one of the world's biggest oil and gas trading hubs. But Singapore is NOT an oil producing country, unlike Malaysia.

Hence, Pengerang is a worthy investment. Indeed, this Johor site now has what it takes to woo oil and gas giants on Jurong Island in Singapore who are looking for space to expand.

With the infrastructure in place, Johor now truly has what it takes to take the shine off Singapore and make its mark as a world-class O&G destination.

With modern technology and advanced technical knowhow, we can perhaps indeed become the "Rotterdam of the Asia" within the next 5 to 10 years.
And for that, we need to thank visionaries like Ngau.

Roy, a long-time resident of JB, is a keen watcher of economic, political and social trends on both sides of the Johor Straits. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com