SEMPORNA – Tourists continue to come to Sabah’s east coast, an area known for its rich marine heritage and home to one of the world top diving spots, Sipadan Island.
They came despite the numerous advisories and notices issued over what was often described as possible attacks on foreigners in the wake of the kidnapping incident involving 21 foreigners and Malaysians by the Abu Sayyaf group from southern Philippines in 2000.
Increased security surveillance , however, helps restore confidence among tourists, many of whom are repeat visitors, who are attracted to the beauty and tranquillity of the area.
Zeina Itaoui, 26, of Australia, for instance, has been visiting Mabul Island, near Sipadan Island, with her husband.
Met at Mabul Island Tuesday, she said, this was their third time in the area and that they had no problem with security.
“We are well taken care of,” she said, adding that she and her husband would spend nine days in Mabul this time around compared to only several days during their previous visits.
Carla Yodueno of Itali, who is in Semporna to study marine life since six months ago, said she had never faced any tense situation here.
“I have never felt that my security is under threat,” Yodueno said.
Meanwhile, Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Noor Rashid Ibrahim said security in the state’s east coast was under control.
Nevertheless, he said, police would increase patrols to face any eventualities following the issuance of a warden notice by the United States Embassy on the possibility of criminals targeting foreigners in the state’s east coast.
“We are giving priorities to areas often visited by tourists. The people have also asked that police ensure there will be no repeat of the kidnapping incident in 2000,” he told a dialogue with tour operators in Mabul Island today in the wake of the issuance of the warden notice.
Sabah Tourism Board Chairman Datuk Seri Tengku Adlin Zainal Abidin said the increased surveillance in the area had restored confidence among tourists and the people on the security in the area.
A total of 25 representatives of 15 tour operators in Semporna participated in the dialogue.