Malaysian authorities are investigating reports that three fishermen were abducted Monday from their boat off Sabah’s east coast near the border with the Philippines, officials said.
Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal did not identify the victims but said they are believed to be Indonesians. They were kidnapped around noon by men on two pump boats – outrigger canoes powered by small engines – while fishing near the town of Lahad Datu, he said.
“I was made to understand that they were taken to Tawi-Tawi (Philippines),” he told reporters. “It occurred at roughly the same spot of previous kidnappings,” he said, adding there has been no ransom demand.
Shafie said the spot of the abduction is remote, so it is difficult for patrols to be there at all times. He also suggested that a formal post be established to deter kidnappings in the region.
Hazani Ghazali, chief of the Eastern Sabah Security Command, said a witness reported the abduction after seeing two pump boats towing the fishing boat around 3 p.m., about three hours after the kidnapping took place.
“By the time the marine police arrived, the two pump boats had vanished and the fishing boat was empty,” he told BenarNews.
Initial investigation showed the boat belongs to a Sabah resident and the three victims were Indonesians who worked for him, according to Hazani.
While Shafie and Hazani did not identify the perpetrators, Philippine militant group Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for a spate of kidnappings in the region over recent years where Malaysian and Indonesian sailors and fishermen have been taken hostage.
Earlier this month, Malaysian police said security forces gunned down two suspected Abu Sayyaf members during a shootout at sea off the Sabah state.
Founded in the early 1990s, Abu Sayyaf is notorious for kidnappings, bombings and beheadings carried out in the southern Philippines during the past two decades. The group, based in and around Jolo and Basilan islands in the southwestern part of the Philippines, has been blacklisted by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization.
Sabah has been under a dusk-to-dawn sea curfew during the past few months as authorities took steps to curtail movements of armed groups involved in kidnap-for-ransom activities.