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July 2004 Vol. 30, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Sipadan Dive Operators Evicted

from the July, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The five dive companies operating on the Borneo island of Sipadan have been told to remove all structures and leave the tiny island by December 31 to safeguard Sipadan's pristine environment. Sipadan became a popular destination two decades ago, after Jaques Cousteau called it one of the top 10 diving spots in the world.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said the state government has ordered the operators to vacate and build their chalets at nearby islands and leave Sipadan as it is. "We don't want solid waste harming the surroundings. They can operate from nearby islands as long as they don't let the tourists stay overnight on Sipadan," he said. Night diving will most likely require special permission and a special guide. "If we don't protect this heritage, then we would lose Sipadan as the best spot for diving in the world."

The move would ensure that the island, a popular spot for turtles to lay eggs and a transit point for migratory birds, is totally protected.

Borneo Divers agrees with the directive, and a spokesman said, "The environment is our silent partner, and when our 'partner' shows signs of being sick, then we must give it a chance to heal or recuperate." Borneo Divers, in anticipation of the directive, had set up a resort a year ago in Pulau Mabul, about 20 minutes by boat from Sipadan, to continue diving excursions to Sipadan.

The directive did not go down well with several operators. The four other companies who decided to sue to stop the action are Sipadan Dive Centre, Borneo Sea Adventures, Borneo Safari, and Sipadan- Borneo Resort Management. Neither Borneo Divers nor Pulau Sipadan Resort joined the suit.

These operators say that operating from outside the island is not viable because it would take them up to four hours to ferry tourists to Sipadan during bad weather. A source told the Sabah Daily Express that "they could not accept the decision if the Government's reasoning is to preserve the environment, because illegal fishing and fish bombing will take place when the island is unoccupied." He said fish bombing and illegal fishing on nearby islands is rampant because nobody visits or even stays on the two islands and enforcement is lackadaisical. Sipadan had faced a serious problem with fish bombing, but when resorts were built the bombing stopped.

Sipadan was the scene of an infamous transborder kidnap, involving the Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf guerillas, where more than 20 tourist divers and locals were taken hostage in April 2000.

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