Some of the divers claim that fish bombing is rampant is Sabah. -NSTP/Courtesy of Charles Mawan

KOTA KINABALU: Fish bombing, the practice of using explosives to stun or kill fish for easy collection, is rampantly practised in the waters of Sabah.

Dive master Ivan Martin said he has witnessed fish bombing activities take place while diving off Mari Mari Sepanggar island, near here.

“Our ears become uncomfortable when the blast occurs, although the source is far away.

“However, we cannot (pinpoint the culprits) as there are many fishing boats around,” he said.

Another dive instructor, Emmanuele Girellie, said that it is common to hear bombing sounds while diving at the famed Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, which is a marine area under the jurisdiction of Sabah Parks.

“Any professional diver at the park would have felt and heard (bomb explosions) before.

“The sudden loud sound scares everyone, even the (dive) instructors!

“When it is closer, we sometimes think one of our O-rings (from the scuba gear) has just blown, until a few seconds later, when we realise that it was due to a fish bombing,” he said.

Emmanuele said on several occasions, he found dead fish from bombing activities littering the seabed.

In Kota Belud, diver Suraidah Roslan said she was quite shaken up when she heard the sound of a fish bomb exploding for the first time.

Despite the shock, she remained calm due to instructions and assurance from her dive guide to stay under water.

Marine police officers inspect documents of some of the boats in the waters of Sabah. -NSTP/Courtesy of Charles Mawan

“There were two or three continuous sounds of explosions. If they (had been closer to us), I think our eardrums would have been damaged,” she said.

A dive operator based in Kudat, Charles Mawan, said fish bombing activities began increasing since last year.

He recalled hearing between three to four blasts during each dive, which would last about 45 minutes.

“They drop the fish bomb some 4 or 5 kilometres away from diving areas, but (the shockwave) makes our hearts jump each time.

“(But) when we emerge at the water’s surface, the (fish bombers) would be nowhere in sight,” he said.

Charles said that after operators in Kudat lodged reports to authorities on the fish bombings, such incidents saw a significant reduction.

As for Semporna, where a dive guide and two Chinese tourists died on Friday from suspected fish bombing, the district is not spared from the illegal and destructive fishing method.

Underwater photographer Joe Starzz said that the impact of bombing is also quite often heard underwater off Kapalai, Mabul and the Sipadan islands.

“When it happens, we just continue with our dive and tell other divers later (that it was fish bombing) after we finish,” said Joe, who is also a dive master.

Sabah Marine Police (Region 4) commander Assistant Commissioner Mohamad Pajeri Ali said that from January to June this year, 30 arrests were made and items valued at RM100,113 related to fish bombing were confiscated in the state.