Kidnappers no longer in Sabah waters, Esscom to conduct census, re-registration of pump boats

Avila Geraldine

KOTA KINABALU: Kidnappers who abducted two Indonesian fishermen at gunpoint in Semporna yesterday have managed to slip out of Sabah and are now believed to be in southern Philippine waters.

Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) commander Datuk Hazani Ghazani confirmed the abductors, believed to be linked to a kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) group, were already outside of Malaysian waters.

He, however, said no contact had been established with the kidnappers and that the Indonesian authority had yet to contact Esscom regarding the kidnapping.

“I believe they (Indonesian authority) will go through Wisma Putra (for update). As for Esscom, we will remain on high alert and continue to deploy all our boat assets to intensify security at sea.

“We are going to launch maritime operation to inspect all boats, including pump boats, in the east coast,” he told NSTP when contacted today.

Between midnight and 1am yesterday, two masked men believed to be armed with M16 riffles stormed a fishing boat with four Indonesian fishermen on board near Pulau Gaya, an island close to Bohey Dulang, off Semporna.

Two fishermen were captured while another two escaped the ordeal after going into hiding. The kidnappers were believed to have been travelling in a pump boat.

Commenting on the issue of pump boats, which is often used by fishermen and KFR group, Hazani said Esscom would conduct a census and re-registration of pump boats in the east coast, particularly in Eastern Sabah Safety Zone (Esszone) next month.

“The state government has proposed to legalise the use of pump boats but they must be registered. Proper licence must be issued, among others, so it is easy for us to monitor. We cannot simply allow pump boats to be used,” he said, stressing the matter was still at proposal stage.

The ban on pump boats in the Esszone was implemented by the previous government last year to bolster security at the area and as a measure to prevent cross-border crimes, including kidnapping.

In May, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal announced that the state government would consider lifting the ban on pump boats to assist fishermen as the ban had prevented them from generating income from the sea.

Speaking on the kidnapping, Hazani said the fishing boat involved was not equipped with Automatic Identification System or monitoring system despite Esscom’s countless reminders for boat owners to install security tracking devices.

“Such device installation is a strategic approach which can assist security forces in monitoring activity and movement of vessels in Esszone waters. Usually when there is an emergency, vessel crew members tend to first contact their employer, who will then alert the authority.

“Security forces are unable to take immediate action and respond to the emergency quickly, thus allowing cross-border criminals to escape,” he said.

He then called on all fishing boats and vessel operators to notify Esscom Operation Centre on the current location of their boat whenever they were in the fishing area within Esszone.

Yesterday’s kidnapping is the first such incident in Sabah waters in almost two years.

The last one on Dec 8, 2016, saw security forces gunning down three abductors and apprehending two in an exchange of fire at Semporna waters.

The location of two Indonesian crew crews is believed to have been kidnapped by a group of men in Pulau Gaya waters early this morning. (NSTP/GOOGLE MAPS)

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