Sabah police considering possibility of murder in diver deaths linked to blast fishing

On July 5, three people — a local dive instructor Zainal Abdun, 30, and two China nationals, Zhao Zheng, 26, and Xu Yingjie, 26 — were killed in waters off Pulau Kalapuan off Semporna while underwater. — Picture by Julia Chan
On July 5, three people — a local dive instructor Zainal Abdun, 30, and two China nationals, Zhao Zheng, 26, and Xu Yingjie, 26 — were killed in waters off Pulau Kalapuan off Semporna while underwater. — Picture by Julia Chan

KOTA KINABALU, July 9 — State police are including murder as part of their investigations on the deaths of three divers including two Chinese tourists here currently thought to be a blast fishing mishap.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Omar Mammah said his agency has not ruled out murder but stressed that this was only a possible scenario that investigators will also explore as part of their probe.

“It is just speculation for now but we will investigate it anyway. We are looking at it from all angles,” he said.

Omar said investigations will develop further once the post-mortem examination scheduled for this morning in Tawau is completed.

“We will know more after we get the autopsy report. The family of the two Chinese national victims have arrived in Tawau and will identify the body and then the post mortem can proceed,” he told reporters here this morning.

Additionally, he said marine police have begun enforcement against illegal blast fishing in the east coast and ran checks on 95 fishing boats around Semporna.

“We have arrested 10 people on the grounds of not having identity documents and they have been handed over to the Semporna police station for further action,” he said.

On July 5, three people — a local dive instructor Zainal Abdun, 30, and two China nationals, Zhao Zheng, 26, and Xu Yingjie, 26 — were killed in waters off Pulau Kalapuan off Semporna while underwater.

Their bodies were found with their dive masks damaged while dead fish and damaged coral were also found in the area, leading police to theorise that their deaths were caused by explosives used in blast fishing.

“We have even found shards from a broken bottle that was believed to be an explosive container,” said Omar.

Two people — a boatman and his assistant who took the victims out to the dive site — were arrested to assist investigations although Omar said they were related to the local victim and were not necessarily suspects.

The blast fishing theory has been hard to prove as witnesses at the scene — including those on the boat ferrying six other tourists and its crew — did not hear explosions despite being less than 100m away.

Blast fishing is loud and can typically be heard up to 5km away.

“We are even investigating whether there is a new type of bomb which doesn’t emit any loud explosions,” said Omar.

The deaths have sparked renewed calls for more policing against blast fishing that is illegal in the country but which remains rampant due to difficulties in enforcement against the activity that is popular due to its high yields using cheap and easily obtained materials.

During to a four-month study conducted by WWF-Malaysia in Semporna between June-September 2018, a total of 263 blast fishing incidents were recorded.