District MMEA Operations Director, Maritime Commander Azman Samsudin, said the boats are believed to be smuggling the confiscated items out to a neighbouring country.
He said the boats were intercepted after being detected moving suspiciously from the Larapan waters towards the Philippines.
"The three boats suddenly changed their directions to Larapan Island when they spotted the presence of a MMEA patrol boat. Six crew members of the boats were also seen jumping into the water from their pump boats before fleeing into the island's forest to escape from detention," he added.
According to him, further inspection on the unregistered boats found a total of 150 barrels of petrol, which were later brought to the General Operations Force (PGA) jetty for further action under the Control of Supply Act 1961.
Samsudin said the MMEA will continue to carry enforcement at Sabah waters to curb smuggling activities and hoped members of the public would assist by becoming their "eyes and ears". Any information regarding this can be channelled to the Tawau MMEA Hotline at 089-752115, he added.