Singapore divers head to Sabah despite warning

Still going: Divers are still heading on trips to Sipadan Island, which is near the military action taking place in Lahad Datu and the surrounding areas

SINGAPORE - The fighting in the Malaysian state of Sabah has not deterred some Singapore divers from heading there.

This is despite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) last week advising travellers going to eastern Sabah to "monitor developments through the local news and avoid the troubled spots such as Lahad Datu, Kunak and Semporna".

Director of travel agency Amazing Borneo Travel and Events, Mr Kenji Yeo, 32, said none of his customers has cancelled a trip to Sipadan Island.

Six of them are heading there at the end of this month.

The popular dive site is three to four hours from the military action taking place in Lahad Datu and the surrounding areas, which has seen 56 Filipino insurgents and nine Malaysians killed.

Mr Yeo said that although his customers are "definitely worried and concerned" about the situation in Sabah and have e-mailed him or called him up, most do not regard it as serious enough to call off their trip.

"Most ask me whether it's safe enough to go and I will usually tell them to check the Sabah Tourism Board's website. If they ask me for my personal choice, I tell them that I would go, but it's their choice."

Final stages

According to the Sabah Tourism Board's website, "security forces are in the final stages of clearing any gunmen in nearby villages Tanjung Batu and Sungai Bilis", so "all activities continue as usual".

Another dive centre in Singapore, Scuba People, said that while 90 per cent of its customers had called to "postpone their trip mainly for safety reasons", five customers are still pressing on with their trip.

Sipadan Island itself is no stranger to violence.

In May 2000, a group of terrorists from Philippines-based Islamist separatist group Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 21 people from Sipadan Island. Ten of the victims were tourists and 11 were resort workers.

The group, who were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and a bazooka, held the hostages captive on Jolo Island, Sulu province, about 1,000 km south of Manila.

They later kidnapped another three French television crew members, a German journalist and 12Filipino Christian evangelists who had gone to Jolo to pray for the hostages.

The guerillas demanded an unspecified amount of ransom and the release of convicted terrorists held in US jails.

Most of the hostages were released in August and September that year, with the help of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who mediated and paid a US$25 million (S$31.2 million) ransom.

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