Sipadan island, off Semporna waters in Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia is a divers paradise - ranked top five diving destination in the world.
Dive sites :
• Barracuda Point• Coral Garden• The Drop Off• Hanging Gardens• Sipidan Midreef
• South Point • Staghorn Crest • Turtle Cavern• Turtle Patch• Whitetip Avenue
Great for: Large animals, wall diving, drift dives and advanced divers
Depth: 5 - >40m - Visibility: 10 - 30m
Currents: Can be strong - Surface Conditions: Can be choppy - Water Temperature: 26 - 30°C
Experience Level: Intermediate - advanced -- Number of dive sites: 12
Distance: 12 km (25 minutes) south from Mabul and 10 km (18 minutes) southwest from Kapalai.
Access: Diving from Mabul and Kapalai resorts
Recommended length of stay: 5 - 14 days, including the nearby islands
Malaysian Airlines flies daily from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu and is reported to introduce direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Tawau (nearest airport to Sipadan)
Plans are underway to declare Sipadan island as a World Heritage site - the 2nd in Sabah after the world famous Mount Kinabalu..
The island itself has attracted world headlines in the past years - not only for its mouthwatering and peerless beauty, but also due to a few unpleasent incidents - such as the raid and kidnapping of foreign and local tourists in April 2000 by the Abu Sayyaf.
The 21 hostages were only released after many months being held captive in scattered locations in jungles in Jolo, Southern Phillipines - some via ransom money payment and some via direct negotiations which also involved the Libyan and Malaysian government.
Among the chief negotiator on behalf of the Malaysian government were Datuk Sairin Karno - now state assemblyman for Liawan, Keningau, Sabah Progressive Party President and ex Sabah chief Minister - Datuk Yong Teck Lee and a few others.
6 Malaysians including a policeman from Semporna - Abdul Jawah Selawat were among the kidnap victims.
The others among others were Fong Kin Yen, Basilius Jim, Balakrishnan Nair and Francis Masangkim.
Other hostages were from Lebanon, South Africa and France.
The whole incident was dubbed "Terror in Paradise"..
The Abu Sayyaf group who did the daring Pulau Sipadan raid was led by Ghalib Andang aka. Commander Robot.. he was arrested in 2003.
Other notabale Abu Sayyaf leaders are Mujib Susukan, Abu Sabaya, Isnilon Hapnilon and Komander Global, it was reported that most of them had died in gun battles with the Phillipines forces.
Since the incident, the Malaysian government has beefed up security off Sabah waters, including stationing the Army and Police on a permanent basis at Sipadan island.
Abu Sayyaf or The Father of Sword is a lawless group, was found by AbduRazak Abu Bakar Janjalani in 1991... it consisted of radical members of the MNLF, Moro National Liberation Front.
AbduRazak was slain in a gunbattle with the Phillipines Armed Forces possibly n 1998 and replaced by his brother - Khadaffy Janjalani.
Abu Sayyaf normally operates in the island of Jolo and Basilan, in the Southern Phillipines.
The group was also responsible for another kidnapping off Sabah waters in Pandanan island, also in the year 2000 where 3 Malaysians were kidnapped at gun point and subsequently released unharmed after ransom payment.
Abu Sayyaf was also behind the infamous kidnapping of US couple - Martin and Gracia Burnham on May 27, 2001 at a Palawan resort -Dos Palmas.
Gracia escaped but Martin died after a gun battle with Phillipines forces - one year later - on 7 June 2002.
The United States Department of States has branded the group a terrorist entity because of its activities and purpoted alignment to Jemaah Islamiyah and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda.On a brighter note - this is a news report by the New Straits Times about the handing over of adminsitration of Sipadan island from the federal government to the Sabah state government.
KOTA KINABALU: Winds of change are blowing over Pulau Sipadan with the imminent handover of the island to the state government.
The National Security Council in the Prime Minister's Department is now in the final process of handing over the administration of the world-famous diving spot."This has always been the plan.
The island was handed over to the Federal Government in 2002 by the International Court of Justice in a territorial dispute with Indonesia.
"Now that things are settled, the island will be returned to the Sabah government," said state Tourism, Environment and Culture Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.
The state government will form a small panel headed by an assistant minister to tackle the various issues brought up by tourists and dive operators, and Sabah Parks will handle the day-to-day running of the island.
"There will be less red tape and we will be able to manage it more efficiently," said Masidi.One of the first issues to be tackled is the limit of 120 divers per day on the island.
It was put into place several years ago to protect Sipadan's delicate ecosystem.But as the island's fame spread, more dive operators set up shop, and the complex distribution of the diving permits often leaves tourists, who have travelled thousands of kilometres to get there, disappointed.
A proposal is being looked into to modify the limitation and allow 120 divers in the morning, and another 120 in the afternoon each day."This will allow more divers to experience the underwater splendours of Sipadan without overburdening the island."
The island, off the east coast of Sabah, has hit the headlines several times, but not always for its reputation as a premier dive spot.
In 2000, gun-toting Abu Sayyaf terrorists stormed the island and kidnapped 21 divers and resort workers, and held them hostage. All were eventually released.
In 2004, all dive operators on Sipadan were told to move their structures from the island to conserve its ecosystem and corals. The move created much scepticism and controversy.
In 2006, a barge carrying tonnes of building material beached on the island, damaging a significant portion of reef. The materials were said to be for a million ringgit tourist facility with a rest house, toilets and scuba shop.
The idea was scrapped due to widespread objections and a more modest project was proposed.