Questions arise over role of Esscom

The Sabah tourism minister said he believed the incident showed there was a need for Esscom but there was also room for improvement. — Reuters pic
The Sabah tourism minister said he believed the incident showed there was a need for Esscom but there was also room for improvement. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, April 3 — Sabah Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun yesterday denied the latest abduction of Malaysians in the state’s waters proved the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) was a failure.

“I don’t look at it as a failure,” he told Malay Mail when contacted last night on the abduction of four tug boat crewmen on Friday evening near Tawau.

If anything, Masidi believed the incident showed there was a need for Esscom and there was room for improvement.

“Esscom is continuously learning and this incident would be a learning experience for them.”

He also said it was not yet confirmed if the eight armed abductors were members of the Abu Sayaff militant group based in the southern Philippines or just “ordinary pirates”.

Former deputy minister in the prime minister’s department, Datuk Liew Vui Keong, however, disagreed with Masidi, claiming that Esscom was a “complete failure.”

“They have lost the confidence of the people,” he said when contacted last night.

“The security council should sit down with the stakeholders and lay out Esscom’s weaknesses. They need a complete revamp of their standard operating procedures and also include how to deal with pirates and militant groups.”

The multi-agency Esscom is responsible for security in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone), an area of about 1,400km in the east coast of Sabah from Kudat to Tawau.

Esscom was established on March 7, 2013 to coordinate security in eastern Sabah following an invasion in Lahad Datu by gunmen sent by a self-proclaimed “sultan of Sulu”.

The area has been a hotbed for militant activities such as smuggling and kidnapping, with the latest being the murder of Sarawakian Bernard Then, who was beheaded by Abu Sayyaf militants last November.

In Parliament last week, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said Esscom was being strengthened to cope with the threats of cross-border infiltration and kidnapping.

“The number of marine craft patrolling the Esscom area has been increased from 39 vessels a day to 85 vessels. This is in addition to the use of Unmanned Ariel Vehicles, manned aircraft, and radar systems to provide full coverage of the area,” he said in a reply to Datuk Raime Unggi (BN-Tenom).

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