KOTA KINABALU: The police are on the hunt for two suspects in connection with alleged fish-bombing activities that led to the death of three divers in Sabah’s renowned dive site of Semporna on the east coast.
Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Omar Mammah (pic) said they were working on leads to track down the suspects involved in the activities that led to Malaysian divemaster Ab Zainal Abdu, 30, and two China nationals – Zhao Zhong, 26, and Xu Yingjie, 26 – being killed in the waters off Pulau Kalapuan on Friday.
It was the first time that divers are believed to have been killed by the illegal blast method of fishing in the district that is home to the famous dive spot of Sipadan island.
“We have not identified the suspects but we have some clues,” Comm Omar, who is coordinating the investigation, said.
“For now, we believe that the three died due to fish-bombing activities,” he said, adding that they were also getting statements from other people, including China tourists at the dive site, to get a clearer picture of the incident.
“None of those in other boats in the area heard any explosion,” he said, adding that a small fishing boat was spotted in the area at about 2.30pm and 3.30pm.
Comm Omar said the police had classified the case as murder and arrested a 24-year-old boatman and a 23-year-old guide to assist in the investigation.
It is understood that security forces under the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) have intensified operations in Semporna waters while the police scour specific islands to hunt for the key suspects.
The boatman and guide told police that after dropping off the victims at the dive site at 2.30pm on Friday, Ab Zainal asked them to go back to the Kalapuan jetty about 50m away to collect spare oxygen tanks.
An hour later, the two returned to the dive site and were curious to find sea foam around the area and dead fish floating around.
Detecting no movement from the divers, they immediately called for assistance.
A fellow diver by the name of Sam helped pull out the lifeless bodies of the three people by 4.50pm.
The bodies were found at about 5.8m below the sea surface and later sent to Tawau Hospital for a post-mortem.
A police forensics team was also in the dive area to carry out a thorough investigation on the site where there were signs of corals being hit by the blast.
It is also learned that goggles and other equipment used by the divers were damaged from the blast. Their bodies were found in a limp state.
On the question of whether the company involved in the dive operation was legal, Comm Omar said they were investigating.
Meanwhile, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew called for a stricter penalty of heavier fine and jail term to be imposed on those who conducted illegal fish bombing.
“While I understand that this incident could have been avoided, the fact that illegal fish bombing still prevails needs to be addressed seriously.
“This incident goes beyond the safety of tourists diving in the area as it mars areas which we consider to be treasures to us,” she said in a statement.
Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi, in a separate statement, conveyed his condolences to the victims’ families.
He also stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of tourists in the area.