Malaysia's police chief says authorities did not pay a ransom to secure the release of four Malaysians, held hostage by Abu Sayaff militants since April.
The four were released from the Southern Philippines and brought back to the east Malaysian state of Sabah by a "special force from the Malaysian police force" after efforts to negotiate for their freedom.
"They are now in Sandakan so the medical team can examine them," said Khalid Abu Bakar at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday (Jun 9).
"Today they'll return to Kota Kinabalu. But from the photos, they look healthy, all four of them seem healthy."
Mr Khalid said he was not "willing to share" what was done to free them but when asked, he agreed that a suspension on barter trade may have helped.
"I believe so that was one of the reasons," said Mr Khalid.
Local news site The Star Online reported that a two-month barter trade ban imposed by Malaysia in April between Sabah and southern Philippines placed pressure on the militants.
It quoted Jolo island anti-kidnapping activist Professor Octavio Dinampo, who said the local communities had been pressuring the gunmen to release the tugboat crewmen as the prices of basic goods had escalated in the wake of the suspension.
It is unclear if any ransom money had been paid by desperate family members themselves,, who had been trying to raise donations for that purpose.
"How would I know?" said Mr Khalid, when asked if they had.