Borneo Travel Advisory
Latest Advice: 30 September 2018
The year 2017 and thus far in 2018 has been a very peaceful year for Borneo with zero incidents related to kidnappings, terrorism or crime related events.
Malaysia's national elections on the 9th of May 2018 was a peaceful transition of power with better accountability and greater action against corruption. Since the election, the changing of the guard in all government departments have been very beneficial for the conservation and protection of Sabah's rainforests and natural biodiversity.
There has not been any Islamic State activity in Sabah. There has not been any threats nor change in the security situation related to terrorism in Sabah.
If you have any queries or specific questions, feel free to ask your Tour Coordinator. The management reads all questions and enquiries and will strive to provide the best and most accurate information.
Travel to Sukau, Danum Valley & Tabin
Travel to Sukau, Danum Valley, Tabin Reserve and Sandakan remains very safe. That said, we take every precaution necessary, have emergency measures in place and avoid where possible crowded areas and outlying areas vulnerable to danger. All boat transfers offshore happen only during the day. We only have boat transfers to areas deemed safe and avoid other areas altogether.
Sukau is approximately 2.5hrs each way inland from the sea and thus the significant distance forms a huge deterrent to any threats from the Philippines. Armed groups usually target the offshore island and coastal areas because it is easier for them to make a getaway across the Malaysian-Philippines border. There is a permanent military-police presence in Sukau village that is only 10 minutes by boat away from Sukau Rainforest Lodge. The river also forms a natural deterrent because there is only one way in and out. A military outpost was recently constructed in December 2014 and is currently stationed with 15 armed military personnel at the entry point of the river that continuously monitors all boats entering and leaving the river and provides a quick response military presence in the area. All our speed boats are equipped with high-powered outboard engines and longe range radios that maintain continuous 24 hrs communication with our base in Sandakan and in Sukau. The areas that we bring our guests on the east coast all host a sizable military presence on location or guarding key entry points to the areas.
Other inland jungle lodges including Borneo Rainforest Lodge (Danum Valley) and Tabin Wildlife Lodge remains safe to travel due to their inland locations and military presence stationed at entry points.
Travel to Selingan & Langkayan Island
In spite of travel advisories from some countries to Selingan island and Langkayan island, we still believe that travel to Selingan island (Turtle island) and to Langkayan island is very safe due to their permanent military presence, further enhanced with the deployment of police and military personnel at all tourist attactions in Sabah by the Defence Minister. An enforced nightime curfew on boats also helps by restricting undetected incursions.
Travel to islands in the vicinity of Sipadan Island
Since the Malaysian police and navy intercepted an attempted kidnapping on 8 December 2016, there has not been a single reported or attempted kidnapping from Malaysian waters. We believe that the situation has improved sufficiently to once again consider travel to areas offshore of Sipadan and Semporna. Unfortunately, due to foreign travel advisories, bear in mind that your insurance may not cover you for travel in these areas (Sipadan, Mabul, Pom-Pom and Mataking islands) until they are lifted.
We advise that our clients exercise every precaution when traveling to Sipadan and islands off Semporna due to the possible threat of kidnapping for ransom. This includes ensuring that you're travelling with a licensed tour operator who has safety procedures and emergency protocols in place. Security at these islands have been bolstered but there remains a residual risk of incursions due to these islands' relatively close distance with the Phillipines border. These island resorts continue to enjoy brisk business and our advise is precautionary on our part.
On 8 December 2016, at 9:30pm at night, 3 suspected kidnappers were killed in a firefight with police and another 3 were apprehended during a kidnap attempt in Merabung, close to Lahad Datu. The six persons were part of a kidnapping group out of Tawi-Tawi, Phillipines responsible for 6 of the 9 kidnappings to have happened in 2016. This incident we believe will improve the security situation significantly as it will strongly deter any further attempts of incursions as it displays evidently that security forces are able to intercept incursions and are willing to use deadly force if necessary. Read more HERE.
During the course of an 8 months period in 2016, a number of kidnappings of locals and foreign workers/fishermen occured off the east coast of Sabah, summarized below. The kidnapper's bastion on the island of Jolo was assaulted by the Filipino army on 16 September 2016. The assault and subsequent clearing of Jolo was completed in 2017. Read more here (article from 16 September 2016) and here (article from 18 November 2016).
- 8 December 2016 - Three suspected kidnappers were killed in a firefight with police and a further three were apprehended during a kidnap attempt in Merabung offshore from Lahad Datu
- 19 November 2016 - Two Indonesian fishermen were kidnapped in waters of Merabung near Lahad Datu
- 5 November 2016 - Two Indonesian fishermen were kidnapped in waters of Kertam
- 28 September 2016 - A local boat owner was kidnapped from in the ocean off Semporna
- 10 September 2016 - Three Filipino fishermen were kidnapped near the shores of Pom Pom Island in Sabah, Malaysia.
- 3 August 2016 - One Indonesian sailor was kidnapped but 2 of his crew were left unharmed in Malaysian waters. He was released on 22 September 2016.
- 9 July 2016 - Three Indonesian fishermen were kidnapped off the south-eastern coast of Sabah before midnight. They were offshore fishing in Malaysian waters when they were intercepted and taken. The three Indonesian fishermen were released on 17 September 2016.
- 1 April 2016 - Four Malaysian crewman of a Malaysian freight boat were kidnapped by armed Filipino gunmen off the south-east coast of Sabah in Phillipines waters. The four crewman were released in early June.
2015 was a very eventful year for Borneo, in particular Sabah: the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that claimed the lives of 18 people on the summit of Mount Kinabalu and the kidnapping of two local Malaysians in the east coast area. Since then, the Mount Kinabalu climbing trail has been reopened, albeit now only limited to the Timpohon Gate trail, and no further kidnapping / safety incidences have affected Sabah.
While no tour operator or government can provide a 100% guarantee of safety for visitors, we can offer some compelling assurances that it is generally safe to travel to/within Sabah. Recent incidents have led law enforcement agencies to increase and take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of the people and visitors.
There is a general threat in the east coast of Sabah due to its close proximity to the Sulu archipelago in the southern Philippines. All travels to islands, dive sites and associated tourist facilities will have a certain level of risk. That said, the safety and well-being of our guests is our top priority and we take necessary measures to ensure all of our tours are run safely by avoiding crowded public places and areas vulnerable to intrusions. We would also like to remind and advise our guests to exercise normal safety precautions when travelling along the east coast and within Borneo.
Safety measures by Borneo Eco Tours and Law Enforcement Agencies in Sandakan:
- The ESSCOM (Eastern Sabah Security Command) oversees the security stretching from Kudat in the far north to the entire east coast including Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Semporna and Tawau. Dusk to dawn curfew are strictly enforced out at sea to ensure the safety of all guests.
- The jetty where our guests embark and disembark is situated between the ESSCOM and the Police Marine Base.
- 24 Hour air (helicopter) and sea (speed boats) surveillance.
- Army bases are set up at the mouth of Kinabatangan River in Mumiang Village (first 30 minutes boat ride to Sukau), Abai Village (another 30 minutes) and at Sukau.
- All our open sea speedboats are equipped with long range radio communication equipment including walkie-talkie coverage that can be received by Sandakan and Sukau Rainforest Lodge offices during the entire boat ride.
Safety measures by Borneo Eco Tours and Law Enforcement Agencies in Sukau:
- A police station is situated 5 minutes away from Sukau Rainforest Lodge. It has six military personnel attached to the station.
- Daily river patrols are conducted by the military attachment.
- Sukau Rainforest Lodge is located 1.5 hours away from the river-mouth heading towards the sea.
- There is another police station situated 45 minutes away (Kota Kinabatangan) from Sukau Rainforest Lodge by land.
- Almost daily roadblocks are conducted. All vehicles are stopped and inspected.
- We have members of The People’s Volunteer Corps (RELA) working at the lodge – Mr. Jamri on day shift and Mr. Shahrin on night shift.
- Sukau Rainforest Lodge admin and operation staff are connected 24-hour via phone (Whatsapp) to all security forces, where daily security updates and warning are communicated. A 24-hour communication by long range radio is also kept with our office in Sandakan.
Foreign Travel AdvisoryTravel advisory from USA, UK and Australia on Sabah security situation are normally based on their assesment at the time of the incident and not based on the current situation on the ground and thus tend to the side of overcaution. These travel advisories take months if not years to be downgraded regardless of actual conditions on the ground.
The following are links to the travel advisories from the respective countries.
UK Travel Advisory updated 6 October 2017
Australia Travel Advisory updated 9 October 2017
USA Travel Advisory updated 12 July 2017
Sabah Tourism Advisory updated 18 January 2018