Pulau Layang Layang - An Underwater Paradise With Hidden Land Hazards

When my friends proposed a diving expedition to Pulau Sipadan (PS) and Pulau Layang Layang (PLL), I and a couple of others decided to skip the PS destination but instead join the rest in PLL.

With the memory of kidnapping of some 20 divers and workers in PS by Abu Sayyaf terrorists still fresh in my mind and with the presence of our Naval Base in PLL, the latter was my logical choice of a safe haven for divers.

Unmistakably, PLL was indeed a diver's paradise. With clear water, pristine corals and abundance of marine fish, our group had had a wonderful and exhilarating diving adventure.

PLL is not just a famed diving spot, it is also a place where one can admire the beauty of nature. The island is a natural nesting ground for migrating seabirds. And with clear sky, sunset and sunrise over the vast horizon of South China Sea, are sights to behold. So, for a diver who is also an enthusiast in photography, the island is an ideal destination.

Thus, our sojourn in PLL would have a perfect ending if not marred by an unpleasant encounter my roommate and I met on the day of our departure.

As we would be leaving the island at 7.30 in the morning, my roommate and I decided to rise early and hopefully with clear sky we could capture the beauty of sunrise with our cameras.

So, before the crack of dawn, we went to the end of runway on the eastern end of the island, which was still under construction, to take some pictures of sunrise. It was still dark but a few construction workers were already around the vicinity. While we were taking pictures, two uniformed naval personnel accosted us and told us that we were in the "restricted area". They accompanied us to meet a Navy Officer just outside the Naval Base Complex.

You Enter - I Lock You Up!!

The Officer pointed to us the two signboards, one on each side of the runway, warning tourists not to trespass the area. He also told us that the resort should have informed us about it and should have shown us a drawing demarcating the "restricted areas".

We told the Officer that we were not aware of the signboards because it was dark when we came and they were small and inconspicuously placed. We also informed the Officer that we were only told during the briefing that the Naval Base Complex was out of bounds to tourists, and we were never shown any drawing during the whole period of our stay in the resort.

In spite of our explanations we were threatened detention and confiscation of our cameras. However, after showing the Officer all the pictures stored in my digital camera, the memory card and the roll of film from my roommate's camera were detained by the Officer instead.

We returned to the resort and reported the matter to the General Manager who not only showed little sympathy to our predicament but also blamed us for not paying attention to the briefing given by one of his staff upon arrival. He told us that a map demarcating the "restricted areas" was shown to all visitors during the briefing. When we, and some other divers gathering around us, vehemently denied seeing the map he immediately fetched one from his office. We told him that it was the first time we saw the map and it should in fact be prominently displayed in all common areas and in all the bedrooms instead of keeping it in his office.

It was obviously futile to lock the stable door after the horse had bolted. But we appealed to the General Manager to use his good office to secure the release of our detained items. But in spite of my letter and reminder to the resort, he would not lift a finger to help.

The presence of our Naval Base in PLL could have given the visitors an added sense of security. Instead, inadvertently or otherwise, it has also become a hidden hazard to them. What an irony!

nakedeyeview.com.my 2008