Four Malaysian crewmen kidnapped off Sabah coast

PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK): Four crewmen of a Malaysian boat have been kidnapped by armed Filipino gunmen near Pulau Ligitan off Semporna in the east coast of Sabah on Friday night.

Initial reports stated that eight Filipino gunmen in a speedboat jumped on board the Malaysian registered vessel, MV MASFIVE 6, which was sailing near Pulau Ligitan, and held them at gunpoint before forcing them to disembark.

The speedboat with the four Malaysian hostages and the gunmen were seen speeding towards Philippine waters. Other foreign crew members - three Myanmar and two Indonesians - were left unharmed.

According to initial reports, the four have been identified as Wong Teck Pang, 31; Wong Hung Song, 34; Wong Teck Chi, 29; and Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21; although police have yet to confirm the identities. They are from Sarawak.

The foreign crew is believed to have later sailed the ship back to Tawau, Sabah. The ship with a crew of nine was returning to Tawau after sending a shipment of logs to Manila when the group of Filipinos struck at about 7 pm as the vessel was sailing near Pulau Ligitan.

It is not known if the gunmen were linked to the notorious Abu Sayyaf which has demanded ransom of US$1 million (S$1.35 million) for the release of a group of Indonesian crewmen kidnapped on Monday. The 10 Indonesian crewmen from a Taiwanese tugboat were kidnapped as their vessel was sailing close to the Malaysian waters off Sabah. Meanwhile, Indonesia has placed on standby an elite force to rescue the 10 hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf in Jolo in southern Philippines.