KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia - The whereabouts of four Malaysian sailors remain unknown, more then 36 hours after they were snatched by Filipino gunmen in the Celebes Sea waters near Pulau Ligitan off Semporna.
Philippines officials have yet to get any information on the gunmen whether they had fled towards the Tawi Tawi chain of islands or had landed in the notorious Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Jolo Island with their hostages.
Tawi Tawi police chief Sr Supt Elizalde Quiboyen when contacted on Sunday said they had not received any reports from villagers within the islands of Tawi Tawi of any landings of the kidnappers and their hostages.
"We have no intelligence information on this," he said when asked if they believed that the cross border kidnap group had slipped into Jolo.
Sr Supt Quiboyen said that both the Philippines navy and coastguards were on the alert for the group that reportedly fled towards southern Philippines following the kidnappings.
The four Malaysians - Wong Teck Kang, 31, Wong Hung Sing, 34, Wong Teck Chii, 29, and Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21, all from Sarawak - were grabbed from the MV Massive 6 tugboat which was returning to Tawau after delivering the timber cargo in Manila.
However, the gunmen left the three Myanmar and two Indonesian crewmen who raised the alert immediately to their company officials in Miri at about 7pm on Friday.
Both Malaysian and Philippines security officials are continuing to carry out operations to hunt for the kidnappers.
Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) spokesman Major Filemon Tan Jr said search operations had been launched in the areas of Tawi-Tawi and Sulu.
He, however, said they were unable to confirm if the Abu Sayyaf was involved and or the victims had been brought to the Philippines.
The latest kidnappings came nearly a week after Abu Sayyaf gunmen seized 10 crewmembers of an Indonesian tugboat and brought them to Jolo.