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Sea curfew is hurting sector
Published on: Saturday, July 27, 2019
By: David Thien


Ocean King Seafood Restaurant at the right bottom corner near the Sandakan Port.
SANDAKAN: Some members of the business community, including tourism players, are questioning the continued extension of the curfew imposed here as part of the Eastern Sabah Security Command or Esscom security measures introduced by the previous administration in 2013 following an incursion by militants from southern Philippines.

“This is not helpful in alleviating the economic downturn,” said Chong Fook Siong, pointing at two Caucasian tourists in a 12-seater tour van on a day tour of the town.

Hence, they want the Malaysian Government to impress on the Philippines to instead imposed curfew at their territorial sea to prevent criminal elements intruding to Sabah waters.  

“Walk around Sandakan town, and any other township, you hardly notice any police patrol presence. In the colonial era, even a lone police constable was conspicuous by his presence standing in attention at street observing or walking briskly about town with authority imposing a law and order watch on all that’s going on.”

Travel advisories issued by some embassies cite the curfew as a reason, among other security concerns by Abu Sayaff or their accomplies for their citizens visiting Sandakan, including the danger of being kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf or their accomplices.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) President Tan Kok Liang had said there is “zero tolerable error”.

 

A nearby Sandakan Seafood Paradise traffic island roundabout fish icon sponsored by Ocean King Seafood Restaurant.

“This means no more kidnapping incidents. That is the tourism and business community’s expectation. Safety and security are vital.”

“the travel advisories (by foreign governments) have affected tourism operations in the east coast,” he said.  

“It is unacceptable that the Philippine law enforcement agencies and armed forces are not effective in neutralising their own bad hats. As a result, here in Sabah, we feel as if we are captives due to curfew measures,” said avid sport fishing enthusiast Philip John, noting that occupancy rate is down again at his hotel.

It has been over four years now since the shocking episode of kidnapping at the seaside Ocean King Seafood Restaurant (pic) took place in May 2015, that led to the imposition of unbroken series of night curfews at sea.  The restaurant, situated about 3km from Sandakan town, was then reputed to be the best seafood restaurant in Sandakan and situated in Pasir Putih, along Jalan Bokara.

Sabah police commissioner Datuk Omar Mammah announced recently that the dusk to dawn curfew has been extended to Aug 9. Besides Sandakan, the curfew involves the waters of seven districts in the east coast of Sabah namely Tawau, Semporna, Kunak, Lahad Datu, Kinabatangan and Beluran.

Those who depend on the sea for their livelihoods can get special exemptions from the district police chief.  

Sandakan is only about an hour’s ride by speedboat from the southern Philippines island of Bakungan Besar. The curfew was imposed due to the propensity of militants from the southern Philippines especially the Abu Sayyaf group attempting to engage in kidnap for ransom activities in these waters.

“The reason that the Abu Sayyaf threat still exist after around 1,500 days since the security lapse that led to the intrusion and kidnapping with the criminals escaping to Jolo is just unjustifiable,” said Raymond Wong pointing at the scene of Ocean King from the Tanah Merah hilltop Puu Jih Shih Buddhist Temple, a tourism hotspot.

“It is difficult for people to accept that fears on possible cross border criminals coming in and we are unable to defend ourselves without a curfew,” said saltfish and dried anchovies wholesaler Mohd Amin at the fish market.

The past abduction of two Malaysians – Thien Nyuk Fun and Bernard Then Ted Fen (who was beheaded later) by Filipino gunmen at the popular restaurant which is now still closed, made Sabahans feel very vulnerable as it occurred hardly three kilometres from the high- profile security presence in the east coast under Esscom.

Businessman Datuk Chew Kok Woh said the abduction made Sandakan folk feel very insecure about their safety around the coast.

He said the location of the restaurant in Pasir Putih was such that the gunmen would have had to pass by a Marine Police station and a naval KD Sandakan station to get there at the mainland nearby the Sandakan Port, what more outlying islands such as the Selingan sanctuary and the Lankayan diving sites. Now there’s even a Coast Guard Maritime Station.

The bold kidnapping at the Ocean King Seafood Restaurant was the first such crime on the mainland in Sandakan. Previous kidnappings had occurred on remote islands or shoals in Lahad Datu and Semporna.

The popular eatery used to be patronised by politicians, senior government servants and police officers. 

“People feel vulnerable. The gunmen entered and got away. It is a blow for not only tourism but also for coastal businesses,” he said

The then manager of Ocean King Restaurant, Chung Yung Tiam, who managed to escape from the kidnappers said, “Four men who were armed and wearing camouflaged army uniform suddenly climbed up the staircase of the restaurant that was built on water, at about 8pm.

“Everything happened so fast. Everyone panicked and started shouting when four men, all dressed in camouflaged attire, suddenly appeared in the restaurant,” he said. “They wore no mask and there were about 100 people in the restaurant at the time, including children.”

Matta warns that the tourism industry still expects better protection to date and Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Shafie Apdal said that the effectiveness of Esscom’s role in Sabah must not be compromised to improve law and order.



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