KOTA KINABALU: Sabah security forces are trying to ascertain how many sea gypsies were actually kidnapped from two fishing vessels in waters close to international borders off Lahad Datu on June 18.
Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) commander Datuk Hazani Ghazali (pic) said from what their Philippines counterparts told them after the rescue of nine of the victims on June 22, there was no one else held hostage.
“But from the information we received from those on board the vessels, 10 people were abducted."
He said what frustrated them further was that some of those who had their statements taken to probe this case claimed that it was actually 11 people who got kidnapped.
“So we are not sure now, how many were actually taken hostage,” Hazani said when contacted Sunday (June 23).
He said from the probe so far, it is learnt that the incident occurred in foreign waters, out of Malaysian borders.
He said from one of the witness' statements, a fishing vessel with 10 crewmen on board had broken down and drifted into international waters, so the captain had radioed for help.
“A second vessel arrived. The ‘rescue’ vessel had tried to tow them back but midway, saw two boats approaching,” Hazani said.
He said the two approaching boats turned out to be kidnappers.
“From there, the kidnappers had allegedly asked to check for all their documents and took those with Lepa-Lepa papers (issued to sea gypsies by their community chiefs as a form of identification but not recognised as legal by the state government),” he said.
The rest of the crewmen from both vessels were left unharmed.
Hazani said all the rescued sea gypsies were more or less home as they are mainly from the Philippines.
“It is like they had a free trip home,” he said.
On whether the rescued crewmen will be brought to Malaysia, he said "no".
“They were here illegally so those who wish to return to Sabah to work or for any purposes must come in via legal means,” he said.
Hazani said their employers must bring them back using proper travel and work permits.
The identities of sea gypsies are mostly uncertain as they have no real country of origin though many say they are Filipinos.
Sea gypsies are mainly nomads but many have made Sabah their home and live on islands or boats.