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District and Town
Semporna Waterfront.
Semporna Waterfront.
Official seal of Semporna
Location of Semporna
Semporna is located in Borneo Topography
Coordinates: 4°29′0″N 118°37′0″E / 4.48333°N 118.61667°E / 4.48333; 118.61667
Country  Malaysia
State  Sabah
Division Tawau
Population (2010)
 • Total 133,164

Semporna is a district as well as town located in Tawau Division, in the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. Its population was estimated to be around 133,164 in 2010.[1]


Semporna town in 1910, during the British period.

Semporna was founded soon after the British North Borneo Chartered Company established Sandakan, and initially settled by Chinese traders, most fleeing from Spanish attack on the Sulu Sultanate. Before been named as "Semporna", this area are known as "Tong Talun" in Bajau language which means "Hujung Hutan" in Malay or "At the end of the forest" in English language.[2] Those who responsible for this naming was Panglima Uddang, Panglima Sallehangni and Panglima Sakti from the Bajaus Kubang ancestry.[2] Soon, the name been slowly changed to "Semporna" (known as "Peaceful Place") which later became the permanent name for this place.[2]

Including other parts of eastern Sabah, this area are once been ruled by the Sultanate of Sulu before been handed to the British North Borneo Chartered Company in 1876 through an agreement.[2] Since that, the Sultan has handed this area for forever under the administration of the British.[2] Other western powers including the Dutch have tried to conquer this area in June 1876 but failed as the British have already establishing a present here.[2]

Semporna District Council building.
The Semporna-Kunak Road.

This area also became the main landing point for the Moro Pirates.[2] Very few people lived on the coasts with the reason was not far to seek.[2] Fierce pirates and marauders infested the seas, kidnapping, raiding and killing from time immemorial.[2] Action by Sir James Brooke, and other nearby westerners powers such as the Dutch and Spanish authorities earlier in the century had managed to reduced the power and range of the pirates.[2] Upon the advent of the Chartered Company in the early 1880s, only one pirate stronghold remained, which at Omadal island, and this was cut out and cauterised by HMS Zephyr of the British in 1886.[2]

By mid 1887, an opportune moment had arrived for the opening of a trading station on the southern side of the entrance to Darvel Bay.[2] Pirates having recently destroyed the settlement of Maimbung in Sulu, some of the Chinese merchants there, had asked permission to settle in the Company's territory, under the rule of law and its attendant advantages.[2]


Jetty to Sipadan island resort.

Semporna is located at the tip of Semporna Peninsula around Lahad Datu Bay (also known as Darvel Bay), and is visited by tourists as a base for scuba diving or snorkelling trips to Pulau Sipadan (Sipadan Island), some 36 kilometres southeast of town.


A stateless Pala'u (Bajau Laut) kids in Semporna.

The majority of the population is Bajau, many of whom live in sprawling stilt villages over the water on the outskirts of town. Also on the sea around Semporna live thousands of people of the Bajau Laut (also known as Sea Gypsies or Pala'u). They are one of the few nomadic sea borne peoples of the world and spend most of their lives from birth to old age on board boats, finding a livelihood from the rich coral reefs in the area. Only after death burial takes place on land.


Sabahan Malay creole is the main language spoken in this area. Semporna is also unique due to it is the only Zamboangueño Chavacano-speaking community in Malaysia, a Spanish-based creole whose speakers can mainly be found only in the Zamboanga area on the neighbouring Philippine island of Mindanao. The cause of the language exist here due to many Filipino refugees who escaped from the conflict in southern Philippines bring the language to this area.


Marine products are still the mainstay of the local economy, as well as tourism. Pearl culturing is a major component of this industry.


The Regatta Lepa festival in Semporna.
Amplang can be found through the east coast of Sabah, mainly in Semporna and Tawau.

Semporna is also known for the Regatta Lepa traditional boat races which occur annually in April. Semporna was also the location of the finish line of Eco-Challenge: Borneo, held in 2000. Off the coast is a marine park called Tun Sakaran Marine Park also known as Semporna Islands Park. It was gazetted by Sabah Parks in 2004.

Semporna is the gateway to diving paradise in world-renowned islands like Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai, Mataking, Sibuan, Mantabuan, Siamil and Pom Pom among others. Visitors to Semporna are mainly sun seekers looking to relax or to take up water sports activities such as scuba diving or snorkelling.


As Semporna is a coastal town, visitors are encouraged to try out all the various fresh seafood as they are cheap and delicious.


  1. ^ "Total population by ethnic group, administrative district and state, Malaysia, 2010" (PDF). Department of Statistics, Malaysia. 2010. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Sejarah Semporna" (in Malay and English). Semporna District Office. Retrieved 20 September 2014. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 4°29′N 118°37′E / 4.483°N 118.617°E / 4.483; 118.617