KOTA KINABALU: Police have confirmed that 10 gunmen were involved in the kidnapping of a group of fishermen from two fishing boats in waters off Lahad Datu on Sabah’s east coast early today.
Sabah police chief Omar Mammah said the gunmen, in dark clothing, boarded the boats and fled with the 10 fishermen, all believed to be Bajau Laut, a community of sea gypsies who are mostly without documents.
He said those abducted, aged between 17 and 60, are not Malaysians.
“The abductors, all armed, got onto the boats before taking off with the fishermen at about 2am. The incident occurred far from the shore, near the international border off Felda Sahabat in Lahad Datu,” Omar told FMT.
He said no demand for ransom had been received so far and police were trying to ascertain why the kidnappers took the Bajau Laut fishermen since they lived most of their lives at sea.
The Bajau Laut are a subgroup of the Sama-Bajau people who traditionally hail from the many islands of the Sulu Archipelago in the Philippines. Most of them are stateless and live at sea off Lahad Datu and Semporna.
The media had reported earlier that the gunmen were believed to be linked to the Abu Sayyaf militant group.
The reports said the two fishing boats were believed to be heading to Semporna from Lahad Datu’s Tambisan waters when the gunmen, in speedboats, stopped them.
There were six people in the first fishing boat and 10 in the second.
The remaining six fishermen who were not taken were later rescued by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).
They claimed they were heading to Semporna to renew their permits for the curfew imposed in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone).
The gunmen were believed to have fled towards the Sitangkai island in the Philippines, located only about a 15-minute boat ride from Tambisan.
Omar said some of those abducted were also believed to possess Lepa-Lepa cards.
These cards, purportedly signed and issued by village chiefs, are a form of recognition for their existence, allowing them to live at sea in Malaysian waters.They are not legal identification documents as they are not recognised by the authorities.