Home > Sipadan Info > History Of Sipadan


In the past, the island was at the center of a territorial dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia. The matter was brought for adjudication before the International Court of Justice and, at the end of 2002, the Court awarded the island along with the island of Ligitan to Malaysia, on the basis of the “effective occupation” displayed by the latter’s predecessor (Malaysia’s former colonial power, the United Kingdom) and the absence of any other superior title.

The Philippines had applied to intervene in the proceedings on the basis of its claim to Northern Borneo, but its request was turned down by the Court early in 2001. At the end of 2004, all Sipadan resorts were dismantled and transferred to Mabul island.

In his film Borneo: The Ghost of the Sea Turtle (1989) Jacques Cousteau said, “I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art.”

Now Sipadan Island is governed and protected by The National Security Council of Malaysia and it was declared as ‘Sipadan Island Park’ on 1st October 2009. Both The District Office of Semporna and Sabah Parks Authority are currently administering the island.

From April 1st 2008, there are only 120 divers per day allowed at Sipadan. Permits are issued by Sabah Parks and each resort is allocated a daily quota.


Brief History of Sipadan:

  • 1878: Under Sultan Sulu’s territory
  • 1917: Turtle Preservation Ordinance 1978 – Sipadan Island were made as the ‘Native Reserve’ subject to British North Borneo Company’s Governor Jurisdiction.
  • 1933: Sipadan Island was gazetted as Bird Sanctuary.
  • 1961: Light House were built for navigation purpose.
  • 1969: Negotiation started regarding the claim of power authority and ownership of Sipadan & Ligitan between Malaysia and Indonesia.
  • 1986: Started building chalet for recreation and operating scuba sport activities by private party.
  • 1997: Special Agreement Malaysia-Indonesia were signed, referring the solution of ownership through Internationa; Court of Justice (ICJ); 30th May 1997.
  • 2002: ICJ decided that the sovereignty right of Sipadan and Ligitan Islands were given ownership to Malaysia; 17th December 2002.
  • 2004: All resort operators were instructed to dismantle their structures and move their operations out of Sipadan by 31st December 2004.
  • 2005: Sabah Parks Authority to manage Sipadan Island; 1st January 2005.


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