KUALA LUMPUR - After living in hellish conditions as prisoners of ruthless militants, three released hostages found themselves coming home to a VIP reception.
Fandy Bakran, 27, Mohd Jumadil Rahim, 23, and Mohd Ridzuan Ismail, 33, arrived at the Prime Minister's private residence in Taman Duta here at around 8.30am.
Their family members had been ferried there under police escort half an hour earlier.
All of them looked overwhelmed by the media attention, but later calmly related their ordeal to the press after an emotional reunion with their families.
Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak noted Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's effort in securing the safe return of all five Malaysian hostages.
"He made a personal effort to ensure their safe return and was determined to get it done by his 72nd birthday," Najib said.
He added that he would call the Philippine leader, who turned 72 on March 28, to thank him.
He said the abductees had spent the last eight months and a week in hell, where they were forced to eat nothing but rice seasoned with salt and drink salty water from muddy puddles.
"They also lived in constant fear of being beheaded if the militants did not receive the ransom they demanded," he added.
The Prime Minister said he was happy to know that the torment had not broken their will to protect the country from outside threats.
"They have asked to enlist in the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) and be stationed at the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone)," he said.
Najib said he had already raised the matter with Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, who is the minister overseeing MMEA, so that they could undergo training soon.
"They are familiar with the islands in those waters and are ready to contribute to further strengthen security there," he added.
He also thanked the Philippine army, Malaysian police, Wisma Putra, MMEA, Sabah government and Kelab Putera 1Malaysia for their collaborative efforts in securing the sailors' freedom.