TO THOSE familiar with Sipitang, the mention of the southwestern Sabah town would probably elicit a myriad images.
For some, the town located in the district of the same name, is associated with the rows of seaside stalls offering what is touted to be among the best satay in Sabah.
Others will think of Sipitang as a border town just north of Sarawak and Brunei.
Sipitang is also known as the gateway to the pristine areas around remote native settlement of Long Pasia including the Karangas heath forest and the scenic Maga waterfall.
And for other, Sipitang is associated with Sabah’s first pulp and paper mill that was set up 30 years ago and propelled the district’s development.
Further cementing Sipitang’s industrialisation is the massive Sabah Oil and Gas industrial park that includes what is soon to be Malaysia’s largest urea and ammonia producer.
For Sipitang MP Datuk Sapawi Ahmad, these affiliations bode well for his hometown.
In just over 30 years, Sapawi has seen Sipitang growing from a seaside fishing settlement with just one row of wooden shophouses to a bustling town.
“So much is happening. What we need now is a more organised planning for Sipitang’s future developments,” he added.
Located about 145km south of Kota Kinabalu, Sipitang is home to various ethnic groups including the Kedayan, Lundayeh, Brunei Malay and Murut.
Changes began taking place in Sipitang in the 1980s when the state government decided to locate the Sabah Forest Industries (SFI) pulp and paper mill about 10km from the town.
The setting up of SFI there resulted in a population boom and more businesses being established, from sundry stores to workshops.
Sipitang also grew in tandem with improved road links between Kota Kinabalu, Beaufort, Sipitang and Lawas, Sarawak’s northernmost town as well as Brunei.
The town became the stopover point for travellers plying between Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei.
Sipitang is also widely known as having among the best satay in the state and many drive to the town just to taste the speciality.
“There are a number of satay sellers around Sipitang and when the esplanade was built some years ago, we decided to relocate them to an eatery nearby,” Sapawi explained.
“Since then some have dubbed that place Satay Sentral,” he said with a laugh.
Sipitang is also the main town serving remote settlements such as Long Pasia that attracts visitors looking to experience the indigenous Lundayeh culture and natural attractions including the Upai Semaring rock formation.
Just 15km away from Sipitang town, the ambitious 1,200ha Sabah Oil and Gas Industrial Park (SOGIP) is taking shape with the centrepiece being the Petronas Chemicals Fertiliser Sabah Sdn Bhd plant.
The plant would be producing some 1,200 metric tonnes of urea per year.
The company is a subsidiary of the Petronas Chemicals Group that currently produces some 750,000 tonnes of urea annually at its Bintulu plant in Sarawak and another 696,000 tonnes from its other facility at Gurun in Kedah.
Petronas Chemicals Fertiliser Sabah chief executive officer Mohd Iskandar Bakeri said the US$1.9bil project also known as the Sabah Ammonia Urea Project (Samur) would begin production by year end.
Samur would be utilising natural gas extracted from the state’s offshore channelled via the Sabah Oil and Gas Terminal (SOGT) at Kimanis, about 100km north of Sipitang.
The project was initiated in 2011 and construction began almost immediately after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak carried out the ground- breaking ceremony in 2012.