Sabah police: Latest ‘kidnapping’ not ala Abu Sayyaf

terKOTA KINABALU: The latest claims of a kidnapping of a fishing trawler skipper in Sabah’s east coast Kinabatangan waters – the third in a month- have puzzled the police as it did not fit the modus operandi of cross border kidnap for ransom groups.

Investigators are wondering if copycats might be adopting the modus operandi of the notorious southern Philippines-based kidnap groups linked to the militant Abu Sayyaf.

Two crewmen of the Sandakan-registered trawler had returned to Sandakan waters with the vessel on Friday claiming that their skipper, Harman Mangga, a 30-year-old Indonesian, was held hostage by gunmen in southern Philippines.

They had told Malaysian police that the gunmen were demanding for RM10,000 for Harman’s release.

However, the kidnapping claims have drawn ‘red flags’ among the investigators as the demand for RM10,000 was a far cry from the opening demands of up to RM20mil in previous cases.

The released crewmen also claimed that they were taken to at least two islands before they were sent back to get the money.

“We are trying to establish if the incident was really a kidnapping. We are questioning the two crewmen to establish the facts,’’ Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun told a press conference in Tawau on Saturday.

Declining to speculate on police doubts about the case, Rashid said they were trying to establish the events leading up to the alleged kidnapping as well confirm the exact area where the kidnap took place.

Based on the facts of the incident reported by the two released crewmen, aged 24 and 26, Rashid said that the trawler with three men left Sandakan at about 6.30pm on July 31.

At about 4.20pm in waters off Kinabatangan, four men armed with M16 rifles came alongside as they were pulling up their nets.

The crewmen claimed that the gunmen wore military fatigues and spoke in Malay with a foreign accent.

They took the crew with their trawler to a nearby island before moving to another island.

“They claimed that they took all equipment on board the trawler as well as their personal belongings including phones,’’ Rashid said, adding that they released the two crewmen and asked for RM10,000 for the release of Harman.

“We don’t know exactly where they were fishing. We are not sure if they were in our waters or in neighbouring waters. We have to establish this,’’ he said, adding that the trawler had yet to be equipped with Automated Identification System which becomes mandatory on Aug 8 for all tugboats and fishing trawlers.

“If they had AIS, we could respond immediately when they are in distress.

“How do we help if owners don’t make an effort to set up the system,’’ he said.

On July 8 three Indonesian fishing crew members of a Lahad Datu registered fishing trawler were taken off Dent Haven in Lahad Datu and on July 18,  five Malaysians sailors were kidnapped off the same waters close to the Philippines border waters.