MCA Sabah is most concerned with the recent shooting incident off the waters of Kunak resulting in Zainal Abad Komel, 45, captain of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) vessel losing his left eye while Leading Rate Prayrie De Cuella Jimin, 35, was injured in both hands. We hope that not only should the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) and MMEA increase their patrols and number of service personnel on duty, but the Royal Malaysian Navy and Royal Malaysia Police should likewise up their surveillance and patrols too to beef up security of our maritime lanes in particular with the Raya festivities just round the corner. If necessary, air patrols should be deployed.

We believe that the shooting has brought forth significant concerns regarding safety, security, and its impact on tourism in the region. Recent incidents, including rampant petty thefts, robberies targeting tourists and locals, and the alarming shooting off the waters of Kunak, have raised legitimate concerns about the safety and security of the state.

Protect Sabah’s tourism industry

Up till February 2024, the number of tourist arrivals to Sabah reached 532,227 visitors. This is a jump of 45.03% (366,988 tourist arrivals) for the same period last year indicating good recovery within the state’s tourism industry.

The tourism industry in the state is still on a delicate uphill mend since the Covid-19 pandemic. Concerns prevail that the negative publicity surrounding the Kunak maritime shooting can have far-reaching implications for the tourism industry in Sabah as a whole. News of violence or instability in one area can tarnish the reputation of the entire state, dissuading potential visitors from choosing Sabah as their travel destination. This loss of confidence can lead to a disastrous decline in tourist arrivals, hotel bookings, and tourism-related expenditures, consequently depriving the state of valuable revenue and economic opportunities.

Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment of Sabah, YB Datuk Christina Liew must acknowledge her responsibility to address these challenges head-on and implement proactive measures to restore confidence in Sabah’s safety and security. YB Christina must not appear to be nonchalant. She cannot just be seen issuing one statement after another. There must be follow up actions such as close collaboration with local authorities, law enforcement agencies, and community leaders to enhance surveillance and patrol efforts not only in the city, but also areas including waters surrounding popular tourist attractions. Furthermore, increasing police presence and implementing stricter enforcement measures can serve as deterrents to criminal activities and reassure both residents and tourists of their safety.

Sabah has had its fair share of notorious tourists and resort workers kidnapping from the diving havens the likes of Pulau Sipadan. Among the higher profile cases included the abduction of Taiwanese Chang An-wei, whose partner Li Min-hsu was killed during the raid at Pom Pom island resort (Nov 17, 2013), while at least two hostages succumbed to natural causes in captivity. The beheading of Sarawakian tourist Bernard Then, 39, on Nov 17, 2015, also marked the ugliest chapter of the infamous Abu Sayyaf.

In addition to enhancing security measures, YB Christina should also prioritise efforts to promote awareness and educate tourists about safety precautions and emergency protocols while visiting Sabah. This can be achieved through the dissemination of informative materials, safety briefings, and training programs conducted in collaboration with tour operators and local businesses. Empowering visitors with knowledge and resources to protect themselves can instill confidence and alleviate concerns about their safety while exploring the wonders of the Land Below the Wind.

Furthermore, YB Christina should actively engage with stakeholders in the tourism industry, including hoteliers, tour operators, and travel agencies, to address their concerns and solicit feedback on ways to improve safety and security standards in particular in the east coast where some of the world famous diving spots and attractions are located. By fostering open communication and collaboration, the government can harness the collective expertise and resources of the private sector to develop comprehensive strategies for mitigating security risks and enhancing the overall tourist experience.

In conclusion, the off-waters shooting incidents in Kunak, Sabah, pose significant challenges to safety, security, and tourism in the region. State Minister Christina Liew must take proactive steps to address these challenges and prevent the loss of revenue and confidence in the state's tourism industry. By strengthening security measures, promoting awareness, and fostering collaboration with stakeholders, the government can safeguard the well-being of individuals and ensure that Sabah remains a safe and attractive destination for tourists from around the world

Datuk Dr Pamela Yong
MCA Deputy Secretary General
Wanita MCA Sabah Chairperson

9 April 2024

-MCA Comm-