The two Malaysian-flagged boats were in the waters off Lahad Datu's Tambisan area and heading towards the town of Semporna when they were hijacked by gunmen in speedboats, at 0245 hours, local media report.

Accordingly, the perpetrators have taken four of the six crew members in the first fishing boat and six of the 10 crew members in the second boat.

The speedboats are believed to have fled towards the southern Philippines island of Sitangkai.

This attack reportedly included the second highest number of hostages since the 2000 Sipadan kidnapping of 21 Malaysians and foreigners.

All of the victims are said to be 'sea gypsies', whom the Malaysian state considers as illegal immigrants.

As the threat of abduction of crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off eastern Sabah remains, ReCAAP ISC maintains its advisory issued via the ReCAAP ISC Incident Alert dated 21 Nov 16 to all ships to reroute from the area, where possible. Otherwise, ship masters and crew are strongly urged to exercise extra vigilance while transiting the area, and report immediately to the Operation Centres of Philippines and Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) of Malaysia,

...ReCAAP ISC advised.