PORT DICKSON: Divine intervention. That was how Tung Wee Jie, who was held captive for almost nine months in Jolo island, summed up his dramatic escape from armed abductors last Monday.
The bachelor, who was kidnapped together with his cousin Wee Wei, 34, from their family-run bird's nest "house" in Lahad Datu on Nov 14 last year, spoke of being held in mosquito-infested surroundings and fed only rice and salted fish.
"I managed to escape when my abductors went for prayers," said Wee Jie, 26.
"While they were praying, I prayed for heavy rains so that they could not hear me running off."
Miraculously, he said, the skies opened up within minutes.
The moment he stepped out of the bamboo hut, he said he ran as fast as he could, taking only brief breaks.
"I ran through dense jungles for hours and hours until I saw a row of semi-wooden structures."
"I banged on the door but no one came out. As I was exhausted, I just collapsed there until the next morning," said Wee Jie, who took some biscuits with him when he escaped.
A villager took him to the police and he was eventually flown home.
Wee Jie said he was with Wee Wei and two other workers at the bird's nest premises when about half a dozen men appeared, some of whom were armed with machine guns.
They were ordered to walk to the beach some 3km away.
The co-workers were freed but the cousins had to board a speedboat.
"About an hour later, we were forced into another boat which took us to a small island. It was there they told us that they were holding us for a ransom," he said, adding that the men spoke in Malay, Filipino or broken English.
The men tried to contact Wee Wei's father but could not reach him. Five days later, they were taken to Jolo.
"The hut was in the middle of nowhere. It was infested with mosquitoes. We each had one of our legs chained to the wooden pillars," he said, adding that there was no electricity or water supply.
He said the captors sent their families a photograph with guns pointed at them. For three months, they even disallowed them from bathing.
The cousins also overheard the men discussing how to get rid of them upon securing the ransom.
"They were planning to shoot us or just dump us at sea," he said, adding that they had nightmares about it.
On April 17, he was separated from Wee Wei, who had fallen sick.
"He was ill from time to time as he suffered from hypertension," he said, adding that the men later claimed they sent Wee Wei to a hospital.
"After my cousin was taken away, I began using a fork to cut through a link in the iron chain. I succeeded after almost a month.
"I waited another month. And then I got the chance to escape."
Wee Wei's father Tung Ah Tey, 62, said yesterday that he first heard from his son in January and then from his nephew on April 18.
"They only allowed me to speak to them briefly. They asked me to come to Jolo and arrange for a third party to hand over the ransom," said Ah Tey, who runs an oil palm plantation in Lahad Datu.
He hoped that Wee Wei, the youngest of four siblings, is still alive.
Ah Tey took offence to media reports which said his brother (Wee Jie's father) had died in 1999.
"My brother is alive and well," he said.