MANILA - Fifteen people from Tawi-Tawi province were rescued by Malaysian authorities after going adrift in waters near Sabah, the Philippine Navy said Wednesday.
The 15, which include seven personnel of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and eight crew of the motor launch they were riding, came from Bongao and were heading to Turtle Island, Taganak when the vessel encountered engine trouble on Jan. 6.
The motor launch was later dragged away by big waves until it went aground near Bukit, Lawa-Lawa, Sabah, the Navy said in a statement.
After being told about the incident by a relative of the one of the 15, a rescue operation was launched by the Maritime Coordinating Center Tawi-Tawi of the Joint Task Force INDOMALPHI and the Naval Task Group Tawi-Tawi, together with Malaysian counterparts in Tawau, Malaysia.
Malaysian authorities formally turned over the 15 Filipinos to Philippine authorities led by Col. Nestor Narag last Monday, Jan. 10, at the border and sea waters off Sabah. They were transferred from a Malaysian Coast Guard vessel to a Philippine Navy vessel.
A day later, Narag led the handover of the 15 to provincial and municipal government officials of Tawi-Tawi in a formal ceremony held at the Toong Hall, Marine Barracks Domingo Deluana, 2nd Marine Brigade in Bongao's Barangay Sanga-Sanga.
Sabah, located east of Malaysia's northern Borneo and southwest of the Philippines' Sulu, is being claimed by the two countries.
The Philippines lays claim over Sabah citing a land lease agreement in 1878 between the Sultanate of Sulu and the British North Borneo Chartered Co.
There had only been intermittent discussions between the Philippines and Malaysia over the claim, and the latter has continued to govern the territory.
In November 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte and then Prime Minister Najib Razak agreed to set aside the dispute.
In 1968, Republic Act 5446 or the law on Philippine baselines included "the territory of Sabah, situated in North Borneo, over which the Republic of the Philippines has acquired dominion and sovereignty."
It was amended in 2009, but a Supreme Court decision said Republic 9522 or the Baselines Law still did not relinquish the Philippines claim to Sabah.