KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — The recent spate of abductions off Sabah’s east coast have taken a heavier toll on Malaysia’s tourism industry compared to the disappearance of Flight MH370, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said today.
The tourism minister told Parliament that Sabah has borne the brunt of flight cancellations after a Chinese tourist and Filipina worker were both taken hostage by armed militants from a resort off Semporna.
He said a total of 76 direct flights from Chinese cities to Kota Kinabalu were cancelled following the incident, including 10 Malaysia Airlines flights out of Shanghai, 22 China Southern Airlines flights out of Shenzen and 44 Spring Airlines chartered flights out of Shanghai.
The kidnapping has also placed Sabah on the high risk list of the US, United Kingdom and Germany — all of which have issued travel advisories against visiting the north Borneo state, Nazri added.
“I agree that the impact of what has happened in Sabah is worse compared to MH370,” he said during question time.
Nazri, who was responding to a supplementary question from PKR’s Gombak MP Azmin Ali, said his ministry and Sabah’s tourism authority are working hard to assure Chinese tourists and the US, UK and German governments that Sabah is safe.
He stressed, however, that this involves greater effort on the part of the home ministry to ramp up security in Sabah’s east coast.
Nazri noted that even if the kidnapping incidents have been limited only to Sabah’s east coast, the negative effect extends to the entire state as tourists would not differentiate between the state’s east and west coasts.
“What we are doing now is increasing efforts to convince tourists from China that Sabah is safe, but this is beyond my ministry’s ability.
“I believe the Sabah government is working hard to give that assurance, but the home ministry also needs to do more to not only give that assurance but also walk the talk to avoid from this happening again,” Nazri said.
Gao Hua Yuan, 29, and 40-year-old Filipina resort employee Marcy Dayawan, were abducted from the Singamata Reef Resort near Semporna on April 2 by a group of gunmen believed to be Filipino militants on April 2.
They have since been released in late May, with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak saying that no ransom was paid despite a 500 million pesos (RM36.4 million) demand by the kidnappers.
Yesterday, fish farm operator Chan Sai Chiun, 32, and a Filipino worker, only identified as Maslan, were kidnapped during a midnight raid in Kampung Sapang in Kunak, some 60 kilometres from Lahad Datu.
English daily The Star reported that police have since launched a manhunt for the kidnappers, believed to be Filipino gunmen.
In early May, 34-year-old Chinese businessman Zailin Yang was taken by five unidentified gunmen from a fish farm near a coastal town at Pulau Baik, Lahad Datu. His fate remains unknown.
The Sabah government had imposed a curfew following the fish farm manager’s abduction.
Last November, a Taiwanese tourist was shot dead and his wife kidnapped by Filipino gunmen who raided a resort in Pom Pom Island off Semporna.
Lim Min Hsu, 57, was found dead with two gunshot wounds while his wife, Chang An Wei, 58, was taken hostage. She was released a month later.
Malaysia’s porous borders in its easternmost state has been frequently breached in recent years.
The government set up the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) following the invasion of Sulu militants in Lahad Datu in February last year.
The unit is responsible to keep tabs on the 1,400km of the eastern coast of Sabah ranging from Kudat to Tawau.
However, the security measure failed to prevent gunmen from slipping into another Sabah resort near Semporna where they killed a Taiwanese tourist kidnapped his wife late last year. The woman has since been freed and returned home.