Abu Sayyaf threat haunts diving havens

Malaysia's Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman added that he had received numerous inquiries on safety and security in the east coast.
PHOTO: Reuters

KOTA KINABALU - Holidaymakers planning trips to Sabah's east coast are concerned about kidnapping threats from Abu Sayyaf.

The recent spate of kidnappings involving vessels in the Sulu Sea has revived fears among those planning to holiday at the diving havens in Sabah's east coast.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, who said this, added that he had received numerous inquiries on safety and security in the east coast.

He said even one of his counterparts from the Middle East had cancelled a planned trip there.

"He is an avid diver and had been wanting to visit Sipadan for some time. But reports and advice he received were all against it," Anifah said after meeting Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi here.

He said Malaysia and Indonesia were pushing for more concrete measures to improve security in the Sulu Sea, adding that both countries wanted to work with the Philippines to deal with the Abu Sayyaf kidnapping threat.

Anifah said he and Retno planned to have a meeting with the new Philippine Foreign Secretary.

"We can meet in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur or Manila," he said.

With the approval of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Anifah also intended to meet Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte after his inauguration on Thursday.

"I want to stress upon the (Philippine) administration the seriousness of the problem which involves Filipino nationals.

"We accept that it is a complex issue. The Philippine military has been going after these people with limited success. The question is, how can we work together?" he said.

Anifah said he and Retno were concerned as the Abu Sayyaf had been increasingly targeting merchant ships.

"We cannot continue to make excuses. We must be able to take care of our own people," said Anifah.

On June 24, seven Indonesian tugboat crewmen were abducted in international waters in the Sulu Sea bordering the Philippines and Indonesia.

The incident was the latest in a series of abductions of sailors from merchant ships.

On March 26, abductors linked to the Abu Sayyaf grabbed 10 Indonesian sailors from the tugboat Brahman.

Five days later, four Malaysian sailors were abducted near Pulau Ligitan.

Another four crewmen from an Indonesian-owned tugboat were abducted on April 15.

The Indonesians and Malaysians were eventually released.

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