Sabah fishermen fear going out to sea after recent abduction case


KOTA KINABALU - Commercial fishermen in Sabah's east coast are worried about going out to sea following the recent abduction of three fishing trawler crewmen near Lahad Datu.

Despite this, Sandakan Fisheries Association president Phua Peh Chee said they had no choice but to take a risk daily out at the sea between 8pm and 1am.

"Frankly, we are now becoming easy targets for kidnappers using speedboats and this really worries us. "But we still have to go out to support our family," he said in an interview yesterday.

Phua said they could not understand how the southern Philippines gunmen in Jolo island could have slipped in to abduct fishermen about 3.6 nautical miles from Kampung Sinakut in Lahad Datu in the wake of a dusk to dawn sea curfew along the east coast.

He said by right, fishermen should not have to worry about their safety with the 7pm to 5am curfew from Tawau to Beluran within the Eastern Sabah Security Zone still in effect.

"At the moment, we are vulnerable as we have to switch on the floodlights, leaving us visible from afar. "Even if we spot any gunmen, we are sitting ducks as it would be impossible to outrun speedboats," he said.

On Saturday, five armed men, one of them seen in military fatigues, kidnapped three Indone­sian crewmen from a Malaysian-owned fishing vessel before fleeing towards the Tawi Tawi chain of islands bordering Sabah.

The gunmen, linked to the Abu Sayyaf militant group, however let off four other crewmen - three Pelahu or sea gypsies and another Indonesian.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun said security agencies under the Eastern Sabah Security Command had launched a hunt for the group and informed their Filipino counterparts.

Authorities have yet to ascertain those involved in the latest kidnapping but suspicion fell on Apo Mike, who was responsible for several recent abductions involving sailors on tugboats plying international waters along the Sabah-Philippines border.

The kidnappers also seized the special permit to be in curfew zones during curfew hours, six handphones and the boat licence card.

The abducted Indonesians were Timorese. They have been identified as Lorence Koten, 34, Teo Dorus Kopong, 42, and Emanuel, 46.