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Court: French Travel Agency Ordered to Pay $1.5 Million to Three Kidnapped Off Sipadan Island
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KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia -- A French court has ordered a total of US$1.489mil (RM5.46mil) to be paid to three of the 21 people who were kidnapped from Pulau Sipadan six years ago.

The order, which was made last Wednesday, was made against Paris-based tour agent Ultramarina, which handled the tour for the three, for failing in its duty to monitor the risks in the region.

It said the company should also have realised that Western tourists would act as a magnet for a kidnap case.

According to a newswire report by AFP, Ultramarina was ordered to pay US$385,000 (RM1.41mil) each to Frenchman Stephane Loisy and Lebanese Marie Mitchell Moarbes, and US$383,000 (RM1.40mil) to Loisy's partner Sonia Wendling.

It was also ordered to pay Moarbes US$12,793 (RM46,931) for the loss of jewellery and computer equipment, US$30,704 (RM112,637) for the plaintiffs' legal costs as well as US$166,315 (RM610,125) to a French fund for the victims of terrorism.

It is believed to be the first case of its kind in connection with the April 2000 incident where 21 tourists and resort workers were kidnapped by the terrorist group Abu Sayaff from the island and held hostage in the southern Philippine island of Jolo for between two and four months.

The other foreign tourists included three Germans, a South African couple and two Finns. The others kidnapped were nine Malaysian and two Filipino resort workers.

Sabah tourism players were cautious in their response to the court decision, fearing that it might discourage western tour agencies from promoting the state as a tourist destination.

Sabah Tourism Board chairman Tengku Datuk Zainal Adlin said they would assess the implications of the decision and would take necessary steps to explain the current situation in Sabah to tour operators in France.

"It (the Sipadan kidnapping) was basically an unforeseen incident. It was a one-off case and the security authorities have tightened security for the safety of all tourists," he said when contacted yesterday.

Although some countries have issued travel warnings to discourage their citizens from travelling to the east coast of Sabah, Tengku Zainal said many tourists were happy with the security at Pulau Sipadan and at other resorts.

"We can see that there are about 40% repeat visitors," he said.


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