Armed pirates strike again
> Two fishing boats attacked in Lahad Datu and Semporna
LAHAD DATU: South Philippine gunmen preying on fishermen along the east coast of Sabah struck again on Tuesday, robbing the crew of two fishing vessels and abducting a Malaysian skipper in separate incidents at Semporna and Lahad Datu.
The pirates, who were heavily-armed with M16 and M14 assault guns and handguns, held up 46 members of the crew in the two incidents just 30 minutes apart, with the attacks occurring about five nautical miles from the mainland.
Apart from abducting 39year-old Ruslan@Nasir Ariffin, the fishing boat skipper and owner of the vessel hit in Semporna, the gunmen took food items, cellphones, clothes, documents and other valuables. Due to enhanced patrols by marine police and the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) along the coastline, the pirates are believed to have shifted their focus on tourists, resorts, fish farms and other businesses on land as well as target fishing vessels.
Sabah police commissioner DCP Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun said yesterday both vessels were illegally fishing in curfew zones and were not equipped with transponders that enable authorities to monitor their movements.
“As such, their safety was not under the radar of marine police or Esscom and they could not seek help during emergencies,” he said, adding that except for two Malaysians, the crew were from the Philippines and Indonesia and did not have identification documents or work permits.
Abdul Rashid said police and Esscom were only notified more than two hours after the incidents. He said in the first case in Semporna at 9.30pm, a crew of 27 fishermen aged between 18 and 60 were setting their nets near Pulau Gaya when a speedboat with six armed men approached their vessel.
Four of them boarded the fishing boat and held up the crew at gunpoint.
Abdul Rashid said after relieving the crew of their valuables, the gunmen grabbed Ruslan, a Malaysian of Suluk descent, and forced him into their speedboat before fleeing.
Later, another fishing boat with a 19-man crew in Tungku, Lahad Datu, was also robbed by a group of armed men.
The robbers, who are believed to be foreigners, took a five-horsepower boat engine, cash, food and other valuables belonging to the Indonesian and Filipino crew. None of the crew, aged between 19 and 50, had work permits or passports.
In PUTRAJAYA, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi yesterday expressed worries over the possibility that certain quarters have been leaking information on Esscom security forces operation methods to the extent of causing kidnapping cases to be rampant in the area.
According to Bernama, the deputy prime minister said such action would give the enemies ample time and space to carry out criminal acts against the country.
“I am not accusing, but everything is possible,” he said.