KOTA KINABALU - Chained to a hut in the jungles of Jolo for four of the six months he was in captivity and moved at least five times amid gunfire, fish breeder Chan Sai Chuin survived his 177-day ordeal by praying.
Thankful that he was unhurt and cared for by his extremist Abu Sayyaf captors, Chan said there were times that he felt his life was in danger.
Speaking to reporters here for the first time after his release 11 days ago, the 32-year-old said the first two weeks were the most horrifying as he could hear sounds of bombs exploding and gunfire while his abductors moved deeper into the forest in Jolo, the southern Philippine island, as Filipino troops conducted operations.
"I think we moved at least five times after landing in Jolo ... I could only pray," he recalled after being grabbed from his Kunak fish farm in Sabah on June 16.
However, his abductors did not ill-treat him and served him the same rice, ubi (potato) and fish that they ate. They also gave him medicines when he was sick.
Perhaps the silver lining to this ordeal was the 20kg that he shed, he said.
"I hope to keep in shape at my current 70kg. I feel healthier now," he said, adding that the first things he ate when he returned were fruits and vegetables, which "I missed a lot".
Relating his scary experience on the way back to his Kunak fish farm with his wife Chin Pek Nyen, 42, Chan said he was not chained for the first two months but was watched by at least 10 gunmen at all times.
He was later chained by the ankle inside a hut for the rest of his almost six-month captivity.
"It was quite boring as one hour felt like a year. I would sometimes make small talk with my captors who identified themselves as James Bond and Tom Cruise, among others," he related.
Chan added that the men spoke Malay but at times it was difficult to understand them.
"I don't know who were holding me as there were many leaders and sub-leaders," said Chan, who had gone to Johor for a break and to meet up with his parents and other relatives after his release.
Escaping from his captors, said Chan, never crossed his mind.
"Apart from being surrounded by sea and jungles and not knowing where I was, I also did not have a map nor could I speak their language.
"It wouldn't help if I tried to escape anyway," said Chan, who has decided to continue his fish farm business which was started in March this year.
"I am not afraid to go back to Kunak but it is better that we stay on the mainland (Kunak) and go daily to our fish farm," he said, adding that there were already security forces keeping watch at the farm after his abduction.
On whether any ransom was paid for his release as the abductors were demanding RM3mil (S$1.13mil), Chan said he was told that none was given.
Philippine military intelligence and Jolo sources had claimed that about 10 million pesos (S$294,295) was paid to the kidnappers.
Chan said he was not aware of his impending release until three men showed up at his hut, claiming to be policemen from Sabah and asking him to follow them.
"I was sitting alone in a hut with my leg chained and was approached by the men just as I was about to fall asleep late at night on Dec 9.
"None of the abductors were around and these men had a key to unlock the chain, so I just followed them without asking much," he remembered.
None of the abductors were around when he followed the policemen to the jetty.
"What was important for me at that time was to reach home safely and that was why I didn't ask any questions," he said, adding that they arrived at the Sandakan jetty at 7am on Dec 10.
"It was then I knew I was free. I saw my wife there and ran to her."
He said he was very proud of his wife who stood alone bravely and tirelessly to work on his eventual release.
Both Chan and his wife also thanked the state and federal authorities as well as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman, Bukit Aman Special Branch deputy director Datuk Hamid Badur, Sabah Special Branch, Kunak police and others who had played a crucial role in securing his freedom.