Monday March 4, 2013
Semporna – the gateway to Sipadan
LAHAD DATU: The east coast Sabah town of Semporna is known as the gateway to one of the world’s top diving spots, Pulau Sipadan, an hour’s ride by speedboat.
Sipadan gained international notoriety when 21 tourists and resort workers were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in 2000.
They were taken to the southern Philippines island of Jolo which is part of the Sulu province and held for six months before being released.
The resort island of Pulau Mabul is also nearby and many divers opt to stay at the hotels and backpacker lodges around Semporna town.
About an hour’s drive from Semporna is the Kunak township which is surrounded by oil palm plantations.
Kunak, about 80km from Lahad Datu, is also known for a limestone outcrop called the Madai Caves and a scenic waterfall.
Lahad Datu is the closest major urban centre to the Philippines’ southern-most province of Tawi-Tawi.
The Philippine islands of Simunul and Sibutu are among the closest to Sabah. The eastern-most landmass of Sabah is just a 45-minute speedboat ride from both islands.
A fast ferry service has been operating between Lahad Datu and Bongao in Tawi-Tawi with the journey across the Celebes Sea taking about four hours.
Other nearby southern Philippine provinces include Sulu and Basilan.
Lahad Datu’s proximity to these restive Philippine provinces was one of the factors in a daring attack on the town in 1985.
A group of Filipino gunmen landed in small boats at the town jetty and stormed a bank. Eleven people died in that incident.
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