Sabah beefs up security measures to prevent tourist kidnappings

Security personnel on duty on Pom Pom Island, on Sabah's east coast, on Nov 15, 2013.
Security personnel on duty on Pom Pom Island, on Sabah's east coast, on Nov 15, 2013. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KOTA KINABALU - Tour boat operators in Sabah will be required to provide security measures for tourist activities including diving and island hopping to prevent cross-border kidnapping by groups like the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf militants.

These new regulations will be enforced by the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), The Star newspaper reported on Sunday (Oct 18), citing Esscom deputy commander Datuk Md. Rahim Mohamad.

The announcement came months after Malaysians Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, and Bernard Then Ted Fen, 39, were grabbed from the Ocean King Seafood Restaurant in the eastern state while having dinner on May 14.

They are believed to be held by Abu Sayyaf militants on Jolo Island. The militants have threatened to behead one of the captives if their demand for 30 million pesos (S$902,340) in ransom is not met.

Efforts to rescue the duo are still underway.

Md. Rahim said tour operators will now be required to send their boat crews to the nearest police station for special training. Boats must also be installed with systematic communication systems before they are allowed to head out to sea.

"Operators must also report to assigned security officials before conducting diving activities, while security officials will be placed in a boat together with the tourists for security reasons," he said, according to The Star.

He advised boat operators to leave diving sites immediately if they notice the presence of unknown individuals.

"We do not allow anyone to carry out activities such as diving in high-risk areas that Esscom has highlighted," he added.

"The east coast is a large area to look after and if we do not cooperate and work as a team, it will be very difficult to prevent crime," he said.