Sabah kidnap: Install radar systems so that authorities have early warning

On high alert: Armed security personnel patrolling the waters off Semporna.

KOTA KINABALU - Operators of two dive resorts in Sabah's east coast have installed simple boat radar systems to protect themselves against intruders and militant kidnap-for-ransom gangs.

Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) has urged all resort operators located on isolated islands to set up equipment that provides early warnings to the security forces to act.

"The simple radar systems can give our personnel enough time to respond to any threats," said Esscom chief Datuk Rashid Harun during a talk on security issues in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) at the Sulu Sulawesi conference here yesterday.

He said the systems, which cost between RM35,000 (S$11,500) and RM40,000, were meant to be used on vessels and could be modified to be installed about 20m above ground.

The advice came in the wake of Malaysian hostage Bernard Then's beheading by the Abu Sayyaf terror group on Tuesday.

Then, a 39-year-old electrical engineer from Sarawak, was abducted from the Ocean King Seafood Restaurant in Sandakan together with restaurant manager Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, on May 15.

Thien was released on Nov 8 and has since returned to Sandakan.

A dive resort at Pulau Mataking is the latest to install such a radar system.

"Security personnel can be alerted to any movement of boats within a radius of up to 10km. We hope more resort operators will invest in such equipment," he said, adding that operators had also been advised to install closed-circuit TV cameras (CCTVs) at the resorts.

Rashid told the conference that kidnap-for-ransom groups operating in southern Philippines were now targeting businessmen in Sabah and not just tourists, and were planning to demand as much as RM50mil for each victim.

He said security was being tightened, especially along the sea routes used by kidnappers and smugglers, with reefs and islands around Pulau Sabangkat near Semporna classified as restricted areas.

"All boats will be barred from the areas during certain periods. We have identified eight routes used by criminals to ply between Sabah and southern Philippine islands and they will be closely watched," he added.

Rashid said Esscom was also aware that criminal groups were using the islands off Sitangkai in the southernmost Philippine province of Tawi Tawi as staging areas before entering Sabah waters.

He said the improved coastal security had been effective based on the six-fold increase in fees being charged to smuggle someone into Sabah for the past year, adding that smugglers now charged RM600 for each illegal entry.

Rashid said securing Sabah's sea borders was not easy due to their close proximity to some Philippine islands.

"Our security forces have foiled at least eight intrusions this year and remain on high alert," he added.

Rashid said the government had spent a lot of money to beef up security in the east coast and resort operators should also do their part.

He also said it was disappointing that some operators expected their premises to be kept safe but did not co-operate with Esscom.

"For example, they refuse to allow security personnel on the boats transporting tourists as it would result in less revenue for them," he said.