Bukit Besi (Iron Hill) is a small town that can be found in the District of Dungun, Terengganu, Malaysia. Bukit Besi was formerly known as iron ore mining areas and the area are rich with natural resources of iron ore.
How Bukit Besi got its name? An opinion expressed, the story began with the discovery by some local residents who went into the forest to find rattan. During their journey, they decided to take a rest and having their meals brought together with them.
One of them saw a large and medium stones suitable for seating. He decided to lift the stone. However, his intention had been cancelled since the stone turned out to be very heavy. Some of them were also tried to lift the stones but still yet failed. Then one of them suggested naming the places with the name Bukit Besi and it remains until today.
While the history of the iron ore mining activities in Bukit Besi began when a Geologist from Japan, Mr. Kuhara came to Cemuak, Ulu Dungun in 1916. He discovered there was a large amount of iron ore contents in the area. Initially, iron ore transported using wheelbarrows from Bukit Besi to Kampung Dendang. Then it was taken to Dungun by boats. Kuhara Mining Ltd Company then informally to take solely responsible on the operation of mining ores since 1927.
The company later changed its name to Nippon Mining Company (NMC). ' Mining Lease ' grant was released by the Terengganu’s Government to NMC on 13 January 1929. The area is about 360 hectares, comprising M.L. 129, M.L. 130, M.L. 131 and M.L. 132 were the fractions of M.L. 75, in which the area has been endowed by the Sultan of Terengganu to his Royal Family, Tengku Abu Bakar Tengku Abdul Jalil.
In 1930, Dungun-Bukit Besi railway route were established at Che ' Lijah Station. ‘Stock Pile ' or the first place of unloading the ore was also at Kampung Che ' Lijah. From there the iron ore were loaded onto the boats and then to be taken to Kuala Dungun. In 1935, the population of Bukit Besi had increased up to 6000 persons (including 3000 employees). The income of Bukit Besi’s residents during that time were also very luxurious.
Public services such as water supply, electricity, train services were also provided free of charge. A tunnel known as Bukit Tebuk had also been completed in 1936. Travelling through Bukit Tebuk’s tunnel had saved much time. Therefore the place of unloading ore from Che Lijah was transferred to Nibong, and later transferred to Sura. Iron ore production by NMC reached its climate between 1936 till 1940.
Tunnel of Bukit Tebuk
After that the production was slowly dropped down and ended in 1945. That was after the Japanese surrendered to British in World War II. There were no mining activities carried out around 1946-1949 due to the state of emergency and no demand. The British Government had sold the mines property of Bukit Besi to the Eastern Mining and Metal Company (EMMCO).
EMMCO had initiated its activities on a large scale in the early 1950s, due to the high demand from companies in Japan. To obtain large profits in a short time, EMMCO had doubled the production of ore. Production activities were carried out 24 hours a day non-stop, except for Friday. Modern machines had also been used in the process of breaking ore rocks. As a result, the company had managed to increase production and produce a better quality iron ore, besides of increasingly massive profit.
Peak production was between 1960 until 1964 where the total of production exceeding 2,000,000 tonnes per year. On 1st October 1970, the EMMCO Board of Directors finally had decided to close Bukit Besi’s mine. There were various factors that led to the closure of the iron ore mines. Nevertheless ore contents was believed to be still exist there. The closure of the iron ore mines was affecting the economy and the lives of the residents of Bukit Besi and Dungun. Many of them had migrated to other places, finding other jobs.