Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Rajang logjam fails to deter cruises, says Pandaw

A vast island of floating logs, interspersed with dead fish and debris stretching 50km up the Rajang River in Malaysian Borneo, has failed to dent or deter the RV Orient Pandaw from operating cruises on the river.

Malaysia’s Star newspaper reported last week that the vast logjam had reached Sibu town downstream “leaving many people shocked by the scale of what is turning out to be an environmental disaster”.

“This is unprecedented and beyond imagination,” Sarawak State Environment and Public Health Minister Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh told the newspaper. Wong described it as a serious natural disaster which had caught both the public and government off guard – though excessive logging is also thought to have played a part.
Local express riverboat makes its way through the huge logjam on Malaysia's Rajang River. Photo from Hornbill Unleashed

RV Orient Pandaw operates eight-night cruises on the river, Malaysia’s longest. The boat’s purser, Neville Joseph, says the ship was downriver in the delta area when the worst of the logjam occurred.

“There has been no damage to the ship, nor has our itinerary been interrupted,” a Pandaw spokesman said.

“The jam appears to have now eased and future schedules will not be altered. All part of the excitement of a Pandaw river expedition and a real insight into the environmental consequences of excessive logging deep in the Borneo jungles!” Pandaw has scheduled cruises on the river right through to March 2012.

RV Orient Pandaw on the Rajang River
The Rajang is navigable to a ship of RV Orient Pandaw’s size for at least 250km up the Rajang to the Pelagus Rapids, and further on its main tributary, the Baleh River. River levels change frequently and unpredictably. Riverside residents include the Iban, headhunters until the 1950s, whose unique longhouse culture survives. Pandaw cruises visit Iban longhouses, which resemble streets under one roof.

Several days of heavy rain last week in tributaries of the Rajang, leading to high water levels and swift currents, did much of the damage. A sawmill manager estimated the volume of the logs and debris floating in the river at over 300,000m3 (30 hectares or 74 acres).

Land Development Minister Datuk Seri James Masing blamed unscrupulous timber companies for causing “an ecological disaster”. He said that this was the third time in three year such an incident had occurred. He said the state government had laid down rules for logging but what was happening clearly showed that the rules were not being followed.

If tourism takes off on the river, it may eventually provide an alternative to logging.

- Peter Needham