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Safety in Mabul/sipidan???


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#1 Pfuller

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Posted 10 June 2014 - 03:54 PM

We have a trip booked to dive sipidan staying at Mabul in two weeks time.

There's been a number of kidnappings of locals and tourists this year around semporna and up the east coast of Borneo which was going to be focus of our travels.

Is it safe to travel in this area at this time? Or should we just dive on the west coast somewhere? Any suggestions on west coast diving this time if year?

#2 Pfuller

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Posted 10 June 2014 - 04:45 PM

This is the latest travel advice from an Australian Government Website:

 

  • We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the coastal region of eastern Sabah due to the ongoing threat of kidnapping by militant and criminal groups based in the southern Philippines and violence linked to insurgency and terrorists. The kidnapping threat in eastern Sabah includes dive sites and associated tourist facilities.
  • The kidnapping threat is highest in the area between the towns of Sandakan and Tawau due to its proximity to the Sulu archipelago in the southern Philippines. There are recent indications that extremists may be in the advanced stages of planning to kidnap foreigners from locations in this vicinity.
  • On 6 May 2014, a foreign worker was kidnapped at gunpoint from a fish farm near the coastal town of Pulau Baik near Lahad Datu. In April 2014, a foreign tourist and a local employee were kidnapped from the Singamata Reef Resort in eastern Sabah. In November 2013, two foreign tourists were attacked in their room at the Sipadan Pom Pom Resort, off the coast of eastern Sabah. A male tourist was murdered in the attack and his wife was kidnapped and held captive for many months. These incidents highlight the ongoing risk of violent crime, including kidnapping, in eastern Sabah by groups based in the southern Philippines. The Sabah Government has introduced new security measures and access controls of waterways in the region.


#3 Drew

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Posted 11 June 2014 - 02:12 AM

Well, it's obviously a higher risk place nowadays with Abu Sayaf lurking off the East coast of Sabah.  I understand that there is an ESSCOM (Malaysian naval police) patrol boat in the area for Sipadan/Mabul, in response to another under reported incident of fishermen being robbed and held near Kapalai.
It's impossible to tell you it's safe.  ESSCOM and dive ops will downplay the incidents for obvious reasons.  Is there a chance of another Sipadan/PomPom/Singamata incident?  Always!  It depends on how comfortable you feel with these sort of risks. There've been 4-5 incidents in the last year.  A few may be connected to pirates and simple kidnapping.  If it were me, I'd still go but forgo the beach villas! :)
The north coast of Sabah is Labuan, which has a couple of WWII wrecks but nothing spectacular.  Then there's Layang Layang, who for some who live in Sabah, consider it a very special place.  I've never found it very appealing but I'm strange that way.  There are liveaboards which run out to the Spratlys as well but the season is over.
Good luck.


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#4 Pfuller

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Posted 11 June 2014 - 02:46 AM

Thanks for the reply drew! I know it's a fairly redundant question... I'm basically digging for a nugget that I can convince my partner with but I it will have to be a pretty big one! At the end of the day the risks are looking too great so we might have to stick to the west. One option I found on the net is Miri. It seems expensive but the oil rug dive sounds reasonable and some nice coral gardens. Have any wetpixelers dived out this way?

#5 kc_moses

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Posted 11 June 2014 - 06:10 AM

Hi Pfuller,

 

I grew up in Sabah and now living in the USA, it's sad to see the situation in Sipadan area, I feel your concern. Here is what I can tell you as someone connected back home and in Sabah.

 

First if you still have desire to dive in Sipadan, which I think most divers shouldn't miss if they can afford it, there could be a safer way. What I heard from people at home is the kidnapping happen during the night, those terrorist could come out from the water and attack tourist who sleep and stay at the above water hut/bungalow. Since it's night, tourists get caugh off guard and do not have chance to run as you only have a narrow "bridge" to run to the main office for help.

 

When I first visit Sipadan, I stayed at the Seaventure resort (you can see my journal here: http://www.mosesong....dan_trip08a.htm). It's an oil rig that get converted into a budget dive resort. To get up to the oil rig, you need to get on a lift that climb 2 story tall. It could be a safer place for tourist as terrorist will have to climb that high to get to the resort. If you look at the structure/column of the oil rig, it's not easy to climb unless they do it the James Bone way, he he. You can contact Seaventure people and ask them about safety feature like 24/7 staff patrol the perimeter, structure of the oil rig etc.

 

By staying at Seaventure, you could be safe at night, and during the day you can go on your diving business as terrorist don't come out during the day and there is coast guard on Sipadan island. Seaventure is just right across from Mabul island.

 

If you don't want to go to Sipdan, Layang Layang is the place to go. Like Drew say, it's popular, but there is a reason. In the book "50 places to dive before you die", the author explain why Layang Layang is popular. And for South East Asia area, that's the place to see school of hammer head shark, but they could be deep and the season is from March to May, but not sure what's after May. The resort close from August until December due to monsoon season.

 

East coast of Sabah have some small unexploid area do dive, such as "Pulau Tiga", and another area that I forgot the name but I will go there next year, In term of land activity, Sabah has quite a few things to offer. In you go to Sabah, you shouldn't miss "Mt. Kinabalu", which is in "Kundasang" area. Mt. Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in South East Asia and second to Mt. Fuji. You can spend two days there for the Mountain trekking, or just stay at the village at the foot of the mountain to enjoy the view and the nice climate.

 

I hope this give you some idea about what to do in Sabah.

 

Moses

 

As far



#6 Drew

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Posted 11 June 2014 - 03:41 PM

Moses, one of the kidnapping incidents was a bunch of fishermen around Kapalai during the evening.  It wasn't reported as an Abu Sayaf incident but a pirate attack.  That sorta makes it worse since there are now 2 sources of possible threats. 

Pfuller, according to my notes, I've done a tour along the northwest coast of Sabah, including Tiga (more famous for being on Survivor), Sematan and Tungku Abdul Rahman.  The only things I wrote down of interest for area  were the wrecks of Labuan (I actually remember the minesweeper) , coral snake island, K. Damit and mediocre 8m greenish viz.

The problem with comparing destinations is the criteria.  Damit would be great if I hadn't seen Gunung Api and Gili Manuk at peak time with dozens of banded sea kraits.  No wreck dive can be the same after you dive the Liberty and Yongala, just for the life on the wreck!
Another alternative, if you feel like the trek from Tawau, is Nabucco/Derawan/Sangalaki on the Indo side of Borneo.  Some good diving there (good schooling fish, jelly fish lake, mantas (well maybe!) etc) but a pain to get to  (Tawau-ferry to Tarakan, then expensive boat ride to resorts or flight to Berau where it's cheaper for resorts to pick you up at)

Derawan and Nabucco are nice resorts.  Sangalaki has had some bad press for a patch but I haven't been in a while so can't say.  AFAIK, there have been no incursions by Abu Sayaf in the area.


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#7 kc_moses

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Posted 12 June 2014 - 08:57 AM

Another potential place to dive is "Mantanani Island", it's about an hour speed boat ride out from Kota Kinabalu. I read that the boat ride is rough so get your motion sickness pill! I will try to go there next year when I visit home. Tungku Abdul Rahman park is just okay for me as it's too close to the city and the marine life is still recovering from all the boat and fishing traffic.

 

Have a look at Mantanani Island and see if it's your cup of tea, so far it look quite nice to me:



#8 errbrr

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Posted 12 June 2014 - 03:22 PM

I dived Layang Layang in August 2010 and had some great dives. I was only shooting wide angle at the time and apparently there was very little around to shoot macro of. For wide angle the vis was great, the corals very healthy and it was all standard wall diving over a 3km drop off. On the last morning of diving we got lapped by a whole school of hammerhead sharks after filming dolphins around the boat. It was a great trip.

 

From a safety perspective, half of Layang Layang atoll has the resort on it and the other half has a Malaysian Navy Base on it. Part of the welcome briefing is about not taking photos of the Navy as they get upset about that sort of thing. I understand the Navy is also part of the reason for the good fishlife - no fisherman allowed within striking distance. 



#9 Pfuller

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 12:03 AM

I just wanted to follow up this thread and say that we ended up staying on Mabul and felt very safe. We stayed at Scuba Junkie which exceeded our expectations in all areas. Lovely rooms, good food, good people and well organised diving with well controlled numbers.  

 

Night diving is still banned on the island, but there was enough to see during the day to keep us very satisfied.

 

We only managed one day of diving on Sipidan and it was fantastic for wide-angle creature encounters (reef sharks, bumpheads, turtles, jacks etc) A big surprise was Si Amil which had world class muck diving. A dive on Meditation \Wall had me scrambling between subjects from Twin-spotted Lionfish and frogfish to a 20bar enounter with Flambouyant Cuttlefish. Then First Beach turned up a 20-bar Hairy Frogfish to make my last subject of the trip.

 

Mabul and Kapalai also had great muck critter diving. 

 

I'm really glad we made the decision to  stay on Mabul and visit Sipidan...it's very high on my return visit list. Mixed with the primate and other jungle life, Borneo makes a fantastic destination.  Its just a pity the Palm Oil industry is so big...you have to see it to believe how vast the plantations are! very sad.

 

Thanks for everyone's feedback.



#10 kc_moses

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Posted 13 July 2014 - 06:21 AM

Sad to see that things are not improving, but if you are heading to that area, please be careful, especially if you stay on Mabul Island:

 

http://www.nst.com.my/node/12559



#11 kc_moses

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Posted 13 July 2014 - 04:44 PM

Just realize this should have been posted at "Dive Destination & travel" section. Can the moderator move it please? Thanks!