The pontoon of Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.

Divers under supervision in Sipadan

#MALAISIE

  Borneo: Indonesia + Malaysia - July 2013

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 


Sipadan. An island explored by Cousteau. A dream of divers. But a dream under military surveillance, for the safety of tourists and the preservation of the reef.

For crazy diving

Sipadan, a small island off the coast of Borneo, in East Malaysia, is one of the most famous diving spots in Asia. A reputation not usurped.

Of course, you better like fish to appreciate the place as it deserves... 👌

School of jacks in Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.

Me, who is hopelessly addicted to bubbles and fish, returned to Sipadan, for the third time, in July 2013, after two first trips in 2006 and 2009.

I have already posted a few articles about this new 2013 journey:

For the underwater environment → Sipadan underwater in pictures
To see a shark up close → Sipadan: a video, a shark, a minute
For the details of my July 2013 trip to Borneo → Diving in the blue of Borneo

Sipadan, where is it and how do we get there?

A few practical and geographical details to start with, as I'm inundated with emails asking me for information about Sipadan... 😉

Sipadan is a tiny island located in East Malaysia, in the northeast of Borneo, close to the border with Indonesia. The island is part of the Malaysian state of Sabah.

A significant advantage of this fabulous diving spot is its easy access, via Tawau airport: there are direct connections with Kuala Lumpur in Peninsular Malaysia, or Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia on Borneo (see theAir Asia and Malaysia Airlines).

Kuala Lumpur - Tawau.
Aircraft MAS Wings, a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines for domestic flights. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.

Once in Tawau, it is necessary to go to Semporna, the port from where boats leave for Sipadan and Mabul, the neighboring island. The journey by road takes about an hour. There are plenty of cabs waiting at the airport.

The crossing from Semporna to Mabul by boat also takes about an hour. Then, from Mabul, it takes another 20 minutes to reach the island of Sipadan itself (be careful, if there are waves, the crossing time is easily doubled).

An oceanic island explored by Cousteau

Sipadan, when you approach, it looks like this:

Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.
Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.
The pontoon of Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.
The pontoon of Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.

Turquoise water and white sand... "Wow" effect guaranteed when the sun is shining.

Sipadan is a very special island. It is the only oceanic island in Malaysia. This means that it is not just a landmass in the extension of a continent, but an island of volcanic origin, created by the activity of the earth's crust on the ocean floor.

Sipadan itself is very small. The island is perched on a vast coral reef, atop an ancient volcano.

It forms a dizzying underwater cliff, which sinks to about 600 m below the surface. These particular geological conditions have favored an abundance of life and an incredible underwater biodiversity. (Click on the pictures to see them big.)

Malaysians Clement Lee and Samson Shak, British Ronald Holland and American Randy Davis are considered the "discoverers" of the island's underwater riches and the "pioneers" of diving in Sipadan. In 1984, they started the very first commercial diving operation there, which still exists today, Borneo Divers.

But it is the Frenchman Jacques-Yves Cousteau who made the island famous, after his passage with the Calypsoin 1988. Amazed, he was quoted as saying: "I've seen places like Sipadan before, but that was 45 years ago. What we have here is a pristine work of art."

In Sipadan, Cousteau shot a documentary entitled The specter of the turtle (1989), whose spectacular images of the cave sheltering a turtle cemetery, with skulls and whitish carapaces on a sandy background, have marked the minds. There is a rational explanation for this turtle grave: lost in the bowels of the cave, they would have perished asphyxiated, because they could not return to the surface to breathe.

Turtle Tomb Cave. Sipadan, Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.

My name is not Cousteau and I only visited the entrance of the Turtle Tomb Cave, a vast room with an intimidating darkness. I did bring back a small video, which I will post in a future article... (EDIT: the video is online, see here.)

An island under high surveillance

Sipadan is also known outside the small world of diving because of the dramatic history of hostages of Jolo, in 2000.

About twenty people - a group of foreign divers and Malaysians - had been kidnapped in Sipadan, by Filipinos of the Islamist separatist group Abu Sayyaf, then taken and sequestered on the island of Jolo, located not far from there, in the extreme south of the archipelago of the Philippines.

Since then, the Malaysian army has deployed men to Sipadan and the surrounding islands. They are there permanently, patrols criss-cross the waters of the region. The security of the tourists is thus (in principle) ensured, but it's still a bit strange to see guys with guns and fatigues on the white sandy beaches... I was already talking about it during my first stay in 2006.

UPDATE: Security in Semporna / Mabul / Sipadan. I receive a lot of questions on this subject, I remind you that this article, originally published in December 2013, is about my stay there in July 2013. I added in comments new information, in response to readers...  

June 15, 2014After new kidnappings of tourists that occurred in November 2013 and April 2014, in two isolated resorts of the region, I published a first long comment under this article, compiling several infos and updates on this subject, that you can read at the end of this link :
https://petitesbullesdailleurs.fr/plongeurs-securite-sipadan-20131215/comment-page-1/#comment-6754

August 26, 2017I published a new comment, in response to a reader, compiling the latest information I found on the situation at that date, to be seen by clicking on this link:
→ https://petitesbullesdailleurs.fr/plongeurs-securite-sipadan-20131215/comment-page-1/#comment-7960

A soldier on duty on the small island of Sibuan, off Semporna. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2006.
A soldier on duty on the small island of Sibuan, off Semporna. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2006.)

Various measures were also taken for the environmental protection of Sipadan and its reef, after the island, subject of a dispute with neighboring Indonesia, was officially awarded to Malaysia in 2002: closure of the few hotels built on Sipadan itself in 2004; introduction of a quota of divers and snorkelers (swimmers in fins-mask-tuba) limited to 120 per day, and now increased to 176 per day [info of 2019].

Inside the Sipadan registration desk, the list of authorized dive operators, with the number of permits for the day for each. Total: 120. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.)
Inside the registration office of Sipadan, the list of authorized dive operators, with, for each one, the number of permits granted for the day. Total: 120. That was in 2013. The quota has increased to 176 now (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.)

Today, most dive tourists stay on Mabul, the neighboring island of Sipadan - where accommodations, from the cheapest to the fanciest, are crammed around the village. Others make the day trip from Semporna, the mainland port in Borneo.

Read also → A brief history of Pulau Sipadan

Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.

The only permanent residents of Sipadan are now military rangers and some lizards and not fierce lizards ...

The military-rangers' post at Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.
Varan in Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.

These measures seem to be bearing fruit - as far as I can tell from my three visits, every few years (2006, 2009, 2013)...

In terms of safety, tourists have returned - and an impressive business has developed around diving in Mabul and Semporna.

From an environmental point of view, the underwater life on Sipadan Reef has remained spectacular! It's comforting, after my disappointment in Maratua and Sangalaki, Indonesian side of Borneo.

Signs on the Sipadan pontoon remind us of the rules to observe in the island's marine reserve. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.
Signs on the Sipadan pier remind people of the rules to observe in the island's marine reserve. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.

Controlled freedom

At Sipadan, each visitor must first disembark and sign the permit book, before being allowed to dive, swim or walk around. Each boat is given a flag for the day to identify it as being authorized to sail around the island.

Signature of the register at Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.
Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.

It is forbidden to circulate on the island beyond a perimeter restricted to the large beach near the pontoon and to the area set up for divers under the trees - with tables, wooden awnings and sanitary facilities. This is both to ensure the tranquility of the turtles that lay their eggs on the sand around the island, and to keep tourists within sight.

The atmosphere is more unusual than heavy. We return on the island between the dives to eat, to rest, to take photos memories...

Beach portion allowed to tourists, in Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.
Beach portion allowed to tourists, in Sipadan. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)
Lunch break between two dives on Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.
Lunch break between two dives on Sipadan. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)

On site, the military rangers, often in flip flops but with weapons at hand, monitor the comings and goings of tourists between two naps.

Sometimes the siren sounds, when an intrepid or giddy person ventures beyond the limit. It is better not to joke with this, warn the guides before disembarking a group. One infraction and the whole boat is not only expelled but also forbidden to dive...

????

Admit that it would have been a shame...

A white tip shark in Sipadan. Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013.
A whitetip reef shark (or coral shark) in Sipadan. (Borneo, Malaysia, July 2013)

(Thanks to one of my diving companions, Vicente Garcia, for the picture above, where I can be seen filming a coral shark! And the video that goes with it is here.)

  Borneo: Indonesia + Malaysia - July 2013

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  1. Thank you so much for this geography lesson and also for these superb photos. It's always a pleasure to read you.

    1. Hello,
      how many days is it possible to dive in Sipadan?
      can we go on the island of Mobul a week and come dive in Sipadan a week?
      sat

    2. @Sat : you don't stay on Sipadan, so you have to stay on Mabul, the island next door. The dive centers, as I explain in the article, can each take a limited number of divers to Sipadan each day. The best thing to do is to contact the structure you plan to dive with and ask them. They'll be able to tell you how many days of diving they can or can't guarantee in Sipadan itself... Good luck with your preparations!

  2. Super interesting.
    I like to have "the frame" of these diving photos you publish, the terrestrial context.
    It's mind-opening, I find. 🙂

    1. @Marie: Sipadan is a well-known spot, but not that well known in reality... I've come to realize, through e-mails and inquiries, that many people, including divers, don't know much about the island's recent history, which is actually quite interesting. I had planned to talk a bit about Mabul and Semporna too, but I'll save those other "terrestrial" aspects for a future post...
      😉

    1. @Mali: no, it's not "creepy", it doesn't feel like that at all when you're there. On the island, at break time, there's a whole fauna of tourists, from all walks of life, Western and Asian, backpackers and rich people, first-timers and those familiar with the place, hanging out and passing each other in wet neoprene wetsuits or swimsuits. This distracts the rangers, who must be getting a little bored... When one of the tourists oversteps the boundaries, it gives them something to do. All in all, it's a fun atmosphere, not a worrying one.
      8)

  3. magical as always, this is twice that we move this destination to not go without a friend who has health concerns ... but in 2015 to us Mabul and Sipadan.
    For 2014 it will be the Philippines with a stay on Cabilao and excursions on Bohol.
    In the meantime I'm enjoying with your photos ....

    1. @Laurence: beautiful projects, I'm looking forward to it for you!!! If the reef continues to be preserved, in 2015 you should be able to enjoy the same grandiose spectacle in Sipadan...
      🙄

  4. @Corinne: I've been away from diving blogs for a long time, and it's with great courage that I return to an article dedicated to diving...Courage....Yes...a serious diving accident in the Maldives last November put an end to this passion, and of course I'm finding it very hard to get over it... Because it was a real ordeal for me over there, between evacuation, hospitalization, tank, etc... And now exam on exam... In any case, thank you to DAN and Europe Assistance, because without them, I don't know what would have become of me! Because it's also very expensive! About 8000 $ ! That's it, I've written my story, and wanted to publish it, to make divers aware that it doesn't only happen to others, but finally I gave up.... So keep on enjoying your dives, and sorry if I'll be more scarce on these subjects.... 😥

    1. @Didier: you know how much I sympathize, after this sad adventure ...
      I'll say it again here, after our private e-mail exchanges, your experience will encourage me for my part to be more vigilant than ever... I'd be very unhappy too, if I had to give up diving. 👿
      But the most important thing is that you're still here to talk about it and that you don't suffer any after-effects, so that you can continue to travel and enjoy your other passions.

    2. Hello ! I'm writing to you today because my daughter Lucie Fronty, 26, after 3 dives a day on September 13 and 14, had a decompression accident in Semporna, Malaysia. She was put in a caisson by the Malaysian army 18 hours after her accident and repatriated by car thanks to the kota kinabalu consul at the kota kinabalu hospital where she was put in a caisson 4 times by the Navy! She has now been in Garches hospital for 3 weeks, in a wheelchair! She can feel her legs but can't walk a few steps with a walker. We're talking months or even years of rehabilitation. Can you tell me if you've recovered to date or if you're disabled for life? Thank you

  5. Good evening,
    Great article that brings back fond memories: I went there in 2007. Not being a diver, I went snorkeling and it was already magical!
    Is environmental protection bearing fruit? I've heard that prices have shot up to go to Sipadan?
    Good night

    1. @Nath': I didn't notice any price hikes. As for the reef around Sipadan, I found it full of life, which leads me to believe that the measures taken locally to preserve the place must still be bearing fruit.

  6. Bravo; great your site; we sign tomorrow for sipadan (for June 2014) I would have wanted to have precise details on the problems of didier maldives; it can serve me; I dive with my wife; Are there more things to know about sipadan? For those who read this email, a nasty anecdote arrived at Bali (diving cruise). Arriving at the airport, customs repressed us because there was no room to paste the visa bought at the arrival !!! but repressed for real; return direct bets and loss of all cruises (insurance does not work) so keep room in your passports; enjoy reading you. MARC

    1. @Marc: gee... What an anecdote! In any case, thanks for the info, it's worth remembering to check the passport pages well in advance before you leave, to have some added if necessary.

      For Sipadan, there's nothing more to know that I haven't already mentioned in my various articles, I think. The best thing to do is to ask all the questions you have in mind before you leave by e-mail to the organization that will be hosting you.

      As for Didier, his problems in the Maldives, which he didn't want to reveal, are medical. He suffered a decompression accident following a dive. Without going into too much detail, you can imagine the mess that followed (emergency treatment and evacuation to the chamber, repatriation, expenses, insurance, paperwork, new health tests, etc.).

      Good preparations for Sipadan !!!
      8)

    2. Hello Marc
      When in June?
      I have a pre-booking in June 2014 but I can't make up my mind definitively given the latest events of April 2.
      What do you think?
      /pascal

    3. from June 7th to 16th with my wife; with malaysian Airlines! but no more worried than that; We'll see. I hate (with ultramarina)
      ciaociao

  7. Hello,
    Is December a good time? What about snorkeling and those who don't swim very well accompanying divers? If you can also tell me what precautions to take to avoid serious accidents (Didier), that would be useful for our first experience in Sipadan.
    Thank you for your site.

    1. @Ming: you can dive all year round in Sipadan. I think it's OK in December, but you'd have to take a closer look at weather-related sites or ask a local structure.

      For snorkeling, yes, no worries, snorkelers usually stay with a boat on the surface while divers dive.

      To avoid problems when bottle diving and limit the risks involved in breathing compressed air underwater, you need to follow the recommendations given during training courses. I won't list them here. But even if you follow the rules, decompression sickness and barotrauma can still happen. Generally speaking, you need to drink a lot to keep well hydrated, always ascend very slowly, dive with nitrox if you can to limit the accumulation of nitrogen in the body, etc. etc. Finally, it's best to give up on a dive if you don't feel like it. Finally, it's best not to dive if you're feeling a bit tired or anxious, or if you just don't "feel" like it. You can always postpone a dive to another day.

      Good preparations!
      🙂

  8. Hello Corinne
    Great site, very informative, and great pictures. Congratulations !
    With which club did you dive and which hotel do you recommend, knowing that we will be 4 divers and 4 children who snorkel?
    Alain

    1. @Alain: sorry I didn't reply at the time. I went to Billabong Scuba in Mabul, which is not expensive, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend this choice with children (or they'd better be a bit big). I'd recommend Borneo Divers instead, their resort in Mabul is very good, and the service for both diving and accommodation is very good, according to what I've read here and there in the comments of divers who've been there.

  9. Hello Corinne,

    Well done for this site, which is full of useful information and makes us dream a little while we're waiting to leave!
    I would love to go to Mabul/Sipadan in August, but the travel advice website diplomatie.gouv.fr classifies this area as "not recommended unless imperative", there was a kidnapping and murder of Taiwanese tourists in November 2013 on Pom Pom Island off Semporna... Are kidnappings common in the area?
    Another question, do you need a good level of diving for Sipadan or Mabul? I am N3 but my friend just has his open-water and dive little.

    Thank you in advance

    Vanessa

    1. Hello, without giving in to panic or psychosis but for information, an abduction still took place in Semporna early April 2014.

      We are completely undecided ourselves, we have already booked for a long time for a diving trip in July 2014 from Mabul... 🙁

      Good bubbles anyway ...

      Yohann

  10. Hello Corinne,
    For us it is almost done.
    Your article has finished convincing us
    We took the tickets and hotel for 6 days in kampalai in august then travel on land.
    I realized that sipadan diving was limited. How can one be sure of having the right to dive?
    Should we book a permit in advance?

    Thank you
    Pierre-Alain

    1. @ Pierre-Alain: ask your host structure how many days with a permit they can guarantee you to dive in Sipadan. Each structure is allocated a certain number of permits per day by the authorities, depending on its size. It's a good idea to ask the dive center in advance which days they plan to allow you to dive in Sipadan, and to have this confirmed in writing. It might even be worth insisting on an extra day or two.

  11. Hello
    Super page, congratulations!
    After the Philippines up and down (from Palawan to Malapascua via MualBoal, Dumaguette and Boracay), we are 80% committed to Mabul Island and Sipadan.
    I'm going away with my son, and as I'm well acquainted with the history of Filipino separatists linked to Al Qaeda, it's true that this trip is stressing me out a little (not to say a lot).
    We received assurances from the authorities that the premises were under military security.
    Mabul Island is further south than Pom Pom Island and Singamat Island where the last 2 kidnappings and murders took place (November 2013 and April 2, 2014).
    it still gives shivers and reflection.
    Impossible to decide ...
    Congratulations on this wonderful blog.

    1. Congratulations for the blog.

      Pascal, have you decided? What authorities did you contact and how did you go about it?
      I'm on Palawan and plan to fly to Borneo in July, but the kidnapping last April has me thinking again. As for the permit for Sipadan, where exactly do I apply for it?
      Thanks in advance for the answers?
      Antoine

    2. @Antoine: permits are allocated by the local authorities to diving structures, according to their size (see the photo of the table I took at the ranger station in Sipadan, in my article above). It's not the tourists who "take" the permits. You have to ask the dive operators on site which day they have availability for Sipadan. If you book in advance, you can be sure of being able to dive in Sipadan. If you come on a "walk-in" basis, you'll often have to visit several dive-shops before finding one that has an unallocated permit for the next day or two.

      Finally, on the subject of safety, I've just added a reply below:
      https://petitesbullesdailleurs.fr/plongeurs-securite-sipadan-20131215/comment-page-1/#comment-6754

    3. @Pascal: thank you for your message and I'm sorry I'm only replying now. The recent attacks on tourists took place in two isolated resorts, so it's not the same situation as Mabul. But like you, and many other travelers, it gives me food for thought. I get a lot of questions about this and obviously can't decide for people, so I ended up posting a long comment compiling some info:
      https://petitesbullesdailleurs.fr/plongeurs-securite-sipadan-20131215/comment-page-1/#comment-6754
      But I can see that you're quite familiar with the situation. So, what have you decided?

    4. hello, we come back this Monday from sipadan; we were on the MV boat celebrations; 4 dives per day over 6 days: the site is Super and its top 10 is validated; sharks of fish, sharks, turtles and a leopard shark; a quick hammer etc .. + 1 dive 0 mabul and 1 0 kapalai which changes a little bit. pB particular (except our air connections a little difficult but everything is back in order) the crew of the boat just told us Do not let your luggage hang around when you were in the port of Semporna, that's all. very good dives. to pleasure; in nov c es will be similan; Does anyone have any information? FRIENDLY MARC

  12. I realize that I haven't taken the time to reply to all the comments above, on safety issues... A reader of the blog, who is planning to go to Sipadan, during this summer 2014, sent me an e-mail, asking the same questions. So I'm reposting below my reply to her. I don't want to make any recommendations one way or the other. It's up to each individual to make his or her own decision.

    And don't forget that I live in Brittany, not Borneo. I have not investigated the situation there and I have no information other than what can be found on the Internet...

    * * *

    First of all, I'd like to say that the information on the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs' "Conseils aux Voyageurs" website is always very worrying. If we followed all their recommendations, we wouldn't go anywhere, of course... But they're doing their job of providing information, it's only natural that they should report safety problems that have been reported and issue warnings proportionate to the seriousness of the facts reported. When I went to Sipadan in July 2013 (see my blog post, above), they were already advising against going to the northern and eastern region of Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia (this was before the attacks and kidnappings of November 2013 and April 2014 mentioned in your comments and which I mention below).

    These kidnappings (accompanied by murder) are indeed cause for concern, as they have directly targeted tourists. From what I've read here and there, the perpetrators are, as in 2000, Filipinos claiming to be part of the Abu Sayyaf separatist movement.

    The two recent kidnappings took place in isolated resorts (which I do not know):
    - One to that of Pom Pom Island : a Taiwanese tourist kidnapped and her husband killed, in November 2013.
    - The other one Singamata Reef Resort : a Chinese tourist and a Filipino employee kidnapped, in April 2014.
    Both attacks took place at night.
    The first woman was recovered in Jolo, Philippines, in December 2013:
    http://news.asiaone.com/news/malaysia/semporna-kidnap-taiwanese-tourist-freed
    The other two women were released in May in the Sulu province of the Philippines:
    http://www.mindanaoexaminer.com/news.php?news_id=20140530113057

    I think it's probably best to avoid staying in this kind of accommodation, which is too isolated and therefore very vulnerable. This article also reports that the possibility of closing the few resorts located on small islands far from everything has been considered:
    http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2014/04/08/Semporna-resort-kidnap-Sabah-will-not-close-island-resorts/

    Now, from what I know of the area: I don't think this kind of attack would have been possible on Mabul itself, nor in Sipadan, nor at the port of Semporna (too many people on site and visible presence of the Malaysian army). All three places are very popular with tourists, and very secure. The army patrols around the two islands of Mabul and Sipadan, seriously minimizing the possibility of a raid, in my humble opinion. On the other hand, given the context of previous attacks, I'd be more circumspect about Kapalai, which is a stilted resort a little off the coast of Mabul, isolated in the middle of the sea.

    I have friends who went diving in Sipadan in May 2014, without any particular concern. They lived on the island of Mabul, Scuba Junkie, everything went well. I do not have the impression that the recent events have so far had a lot of impact on the diving business there, but I could be wrong (maybe there are already fewer tourists , Chinese in particular?). The Malaysian authorities say they want to reinforce the security measures, I came across this recent article (June 5, 2014):
    http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/malaysia-to-boost-sabah/1138282.html

    Anyway, keep in mind that the guys from Abu Sayyaf did not hesitate to resume their incursions into Malaysia, to kidnap tourists, and so they can start again. This explains the particularly alarming message of the Foreign Ministry's website for travelers in this region, which I give you the link:
    http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs/conseils-par-pays/malaisie-12284/

  13. Still on the subject of security: I discover, via the media on the internet, this July 13, 2014, that an attack has this time taken place on the island of Mabul itself, at the luxury Mabul Water Bungalows Resort hotel. One policeman was killed, another kidnapped...

    A raid by armed men on Mabul, the island where diving tourists stay, is truly worrying. Here are some links:
    http://online.wsj.com/articles/gunmen-attack-borneo-diving-resort-1405235722
    http://www.skynews.com.au/news/world/asiapacific/2014/07/13/gunmen-attack-diving-resort-on-borneo.html
    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/07/13/al-qaeda-linked-militants_n_5581878.html

    1. Indeed, it's worrying. I'm supposed to go to Mabul at the beginning of August as a couple and this July 13 raid is scary! I don't even ask myself whether the risk exists (the answer is yes!). I'm now wondering what measures the Malaysian authorities have taken to (further) secure the area, and whether they haven't been "overwhelmed" by these repeated attacks by Filipino separatists, who we don't know are planning to repeat them, targeting "key" (tourist) areas. If anyone has any info, I'd love to hear it, thanks.

    2. I'm back from Malaysia, where I dived in the Semporna archipelago in the first half of August, and everything went well.
      The resort/diving center I was staying at (which was fully booked) didn't seem to care, and neither did the customers.

      I'd like to take this opportunity to warmly recommend Scuba Junckie. Great value for money on accommodation/service and top-notch dive guide. Special mention to Dave for introducing me to the Sipadan sites (which are truly exceptional).

      The attack in July 2014 occurred at the Mabul Water Bungalows on one of the pontoons with bungalows on piloti. Given the large military presence on the island, I can't imagine an attack on the "mainland" of Mabul. Nevertheless, we must remain vigilant and keep abreast of developments in the area.

      In any case, if anyone is reluctant to go, my message is intended to reassure them 😉

    3. Hello,
      we have been with my wife in Sipadan from August 14th to August 21st.
      We are lucky to be able to settle in luxury at the KAPALAI resort.

      Physical security was a palpable preoccupation, with over thirty soldiers armed with M16s moving among us.
      a destroyer off the coast of Mabul, providing H24 radar coverage of what was happening in the air and on the sea.
      Regular helicopter overflights and a night-time curfew. In addition, most bungalows have a red emergency button that triggers military intervention.
      Finally following the events of July the resort had itself reinforced the security by posting the night of additional security personnel.

      Extraordinarily, this atmosphere, far from being oppressive, was totally transparent, apart from the armed but friendly soldiers and the fact that the first dive in SIPADAN was at 6am instead of 5.30am.
      So for me it's confirmed the risk is real but the measures taken were totally satisfactory.

      The dives:
      extraordinary: turtle dance, swimming with sharks, baraccuda swirls, jack fishes galore, dinner with humpback parrotfish, corals and a multitude of other fish. Certainly one of the most beautiful dives we'll ever make.

      The resort:
      As far as financial means allow, it's the best.
      10% of Westerners. However, the Chinese are far from unpleasant: the resort is known as a must for honeymoon photos and snorkeling. So they're pretty laid-back, and throw themselves on the buffet just like the Westerners.
      Large, airy bungalows with total visual privacy.
      Service with Malay very smiling and caring for their customers.

      The club: TOP no bottle to carry, 4 dives per day at SIPADAN, 3 dives per day otherwise + 1 in the morning or evening from the resort (guaranteed fish)

      So probably one of our best trips.
      To do despite the risks of piracy / terrorism.

      Pierre-Alain

  14. Hello,
    We came back
    today of a 5-night stay ond Mabul
    (Sipadan Mabul Resort).
    I can confirm Pierre Alain's comments: superb diving and military personnel in the hotel.
    However, there is one
    Atmosphere quite heavy and
    We have the impression that we're not being told everything.
    In the evening, the police are so discreet that we do not see them.
    Finally, I don't know if it's a coincidence or not, but the hotels on Mabul are really not full.
    In summary, very good dive site but unhealthy atmosphere.

  15. Hello and thank you for all the information you've found on the blog, it's really informative...
    I'm going to take a closer look at the links in English, as we're planning to leave in October with our soon-to-be 10-year-old son - in December - and we'll be back in the spring.
    So, one, I must see what is possible diving level for him, because according to the information Padi is possible from 10 years and sometimes before ...
    2 / in relation to security,
    3 / palu
    in short, all this really makes you want to but still a lot of parameters to check before 😉
    And if not, I'm looking for some nice spots to do the PADI with a little guy around...
    As we have a flight to Bangkok, it's pretty open afterwards.

    1. Are in Mabuĺ right now. Security to the max but the funds make us good!
      The reconverted diving platform is ideal for 4-7 dives per day.
      Very well organized, efficient, "almost" non-existent service. Attractive price compared with other resorts.
      8 Military permanently at night for our safety. Have taken the VIP room ... no view, but spacious!
      After seeing a lot during my 31 years of diving ... I must say that we pass an incredible milestone here ... !!!!
      François
      OWSI - SWITZERLAND
      08.12.2014

  16. Hi Corinne,
    I'm going with two friends to Mabul from February 21 to 28, 2016. On the program, 3 days of diving on Sipadan including 😀.
    We're taking the risk, because Sipadan really is one of the most fabulous diving spots in the world...
    For the resort, we hesitate between Billabong and Uncle Chang ...
    See you soon for news on the way back 😉
    Gaël, fan of your blog and dive

    1. Hello,
      I love the diving blog ...
      I'm currently preparing my next trip to Asia for 1 month, and I'd like to dive in Sipadan.....Please let me know about your February trip (Gaël café du voyage).
      It makes you want to see all this underwater wealth 🙂
      Thank you

  17. i booked at borneo divers in june but i'm still hesitating thanks for the follow up...in fact with the latest events i'm even hesitating for malaysia...

    1. Your story touched me enormously because my daughter lucie 26 years has just done an ADD after 3 dives in Semporna Malaysia and currently she is in the hospital in Garches rehabilitation for difficulties walking. Where are you now? Did you recover from your accident?

    1. @Damien: the situation hasn't improved since 2013 (when I wrote and published this article) and there have been new abductions up to 2016. However, unless I'm mistaken, none involved tourists in 2015 and 2016. See the chronology from 2000 to 2016 via the link below:
      http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/sabah-abductions-since-2000-a-timeline

      In this month of August 2017, the French government formally advises against travel to northeast Sabbah for safety reasons, which is quite normal in view of past events. This translates into a zone colored red, at the foot of the page, on the "Conseils aux voyageurs" website, in the Borneo region concerned:
      http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs/conseils-par-pays/malaisie/#securite

      A curfew was introduced by the Malaysian authorities in July 2014 in the critical area under military surveillance, known as the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZone). In the article below, from August 17, 2017, a police chief says that there have been no kidnappings so far in the zone in this year 2017, but that there are still threats to the safety of locals and tourists, and that the curfew will be maintained for as long as necessary :
      https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2017/08/268874/police-maintain-eastern-sabah-curfew-security-threats-remain

      According to this article from August 26, 2017, the curfew will be extended until September 11, 2017:
      http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/curfew-at-esszone-extended-until-sept-11-says-sabah-police-commissioner

      Malaysian authorities are also planning to step up checks and patrols at sea, according to this article published in early August 2017:
      http://www.theborneopost.com/2017/08/01/esszone-sea-checkpoints-to-increase-security-of-sabah/

      It is also interesting to read the testimonials of travelers, as here on Tripadvisor, in this conversation opened in March 2017:
      https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g635753-i13334-k10351122-Semporna_Sipadan_safety-Semporna_Semporna_District_Sabah.html
      The report shows that the islands and tourist sites are still heavily guarded by the military, and that diving activities are continuing. Bookings from Western travelers are at half-mast, and the tourist clientele seems to be predominantly Asian at the moment. A Slovenian woman said she went there in April 2017 with her 5-year-old child, and felt quite safe because of the presence of the military...

      Below is an update on the situation in 2017, according to a local tour operator, who, while urging caution, believes the situation has improved rather:
      https://www.borneoecotours.com/travel-info/advisory.php
      From this tour operator's point of view, the battle of Marawi in the southern Philippines, mobilizing jihadists in the service of Abu Sayyaf against the Philippine army, paradoxically made the Malaysian territory of northern Borneo safer...

      In any case, it seems that the Malaysian, Philippine and Indonesian authorities are willing to cooperate more closely, in order to better respond to this terrorist threat. Several Filipinos, alleged members of Abu Sayyaf, suspected of preparing new kidnappings, or of having carried out kidnappings in the northern Borneo area, were killed or arrested in 2017. See some links below.
      April 2017 articles:
      http://www.theborneopost.com/2017/04/18/20-abduction-cases-5-kidnapping-bids-between-2000-and-2016-in-sabah/
      http://www.tnp.sg/news/world/abu-sayyaf-plot-kidnap-tourists-sabah-islands-foiled
      Article of May 2017:
      http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2017/05/20/caught-abu-sayyaf-man-key-to-kidnappings-in-sabah/
      Article published on July 14, 2017:
      http://www.philstar.com/nation/2017/07/14/1719545/suspected-abu-sayyaf-member-involved-mass-abduction-foreigners-captured

      These are the various bits of info I was able to gather this Saturday, August 26, 2017, by launching a Google search. I don't live there, but in Brittany, in Rennes, so I don't have any info other than what's accessible via the internet, and I haven't been back to northeast Sabbah since 2013. But the area seems even more secure today than it was four years ago by the Malaysian authorities. Unfortunately, we know that terrorists can strike anywhere, in Sipadan, as in Barcelona, London, Nice or Paris...

  18. Hello, I would like to go diving in Sipadan in August, I was wondering is it possible to book a permit for a specific day or do you have to go to Mabul and hope?

    Thank you!

    1. @Marie Menanteau: hello, I don't know... It all depends on the number of permits obtained by the various centers and resorts on site. Contact the resort you plan to dive with and ask them. They'll be able to tell you if they can book dives in Sipadan for a specific day or not. Good luck with your preparations!

  19. Dives on the periphery islands are weaker than Sipadan. If it were up to us, we would be diving every day, all the time in Sipadan. That said, diving in Mabul is really fun. Given the high traffic of divers and snorkelers, the fish here are very sociable, probably because tourists have the habit of feeding them. At the site names

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