(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The second abduction of three Malaysians from Pulau Pandanan resort island, just off the east coast district of Semporna in Sabah, has done grave damage to Malaysia’s international reputation on security and tourism.
The Malaysian authorities do not seem to have learnt anything from the April abduction of 21 people at Sipadan resort island, with both abductions probably perpetrated by the same Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebels in Southern Philippines.
It is most shocking that the several security measures which were implemented following the Pulau Sipadan abductions proved to be of no avail.
The measures, which included increased naval patrols by the Malaysian enforcement authorities, such as police, navy and customs, aerial surveillance over islands within Malaysian waters off Sabah, also involve co-operation from island resort operators such as switching off the resort lights in the event of raids or intrusions to attract the attention of boats patrolling Malaysian waters.
However, although the Pulau Pandan resort operator switched off power supply on Sunday night as agreed upon with police as a means of alerting them to attackers when they heard the sound of motor boats landing, there was no response whatsoever from the police General Operations Force post on Pulau Mataking, about five kilometres from Pulau Pandanan.
In a way, it was fortunate that no tourists were taken as hostages, as the Pandanan Semporna Island Resort was temporarily closed for repairs following damage by typhoon Bilis.
Difficulties in providing security for the island resorts is not acceptable explanation for the helplessness in the second abduction, after the most damaging international publicity arising from the Sipadan kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf in April and the assurances by government leaders of increased security patrols.
In April, after the Sipadan kidnappings, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri
Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was asked whether the Government would tighten security
measures on tourist islands.
Mahathir said Malaysia was not in serious danger. "What happened was that during the economic downturn, the Government cut down the use of patrol boats. Now we have started patrols again."
Asked whether the incident would affect tourism in Sabah, Dr Mahathir said:
It has been reported that the Muslim abductors had brought the three hostages from Pulau Pandanan to the southern Philippine island of Jolo, the hideout of bandit gangs and the Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebels, after outrunning navy patrols with a speedboat purchased with ransom received for previous hostages, that some 200 armed Abu Sayyaf cadres were waiting for the kidnappers when they landed on a deserted beach on Jolo and that the victims were quickly taken to the hideout of rebel chieftan Galib Andang, also known as Commander Robot.
Local Filipino newspapers that the bought the powerful 750 horsepower twin-engine 50-seater speedboat for 1.7 million pesos (US$37,700) from a local businessman in July shortly after they received ransom payments for the first of the Sipadan hostages they released. The Philippines "aging navy patrol craft" was just no match.
The Muslim rebels have also bought an arsenal of automatic assault
rifles, bazookas and mortars, and have recruited several thousand more
men with the
promise of easy money.
The international media has reported that the nine Malaysian hostages taken from Sipadan were released after the abductors received US$3 million from the Malaysian government while the Western hostages were set free after a much larger ransom (reportedly $US1 million a head).
The disturbing queston is whether the payment of ransom to the kidnappers
was only turning hostage-taking of tourists and resort workers into
a lucrative growth industry, which would only result in the ruin of
the tourism industry not only in Sabah but also Malaysia - as foreigners
would lump Sabah and Malaysia together.